Heading up the design of the National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel is the architectural firm of Moshe Safdie and Associates. The Israeli born Safdie is a world-famous architect, whose firm is engaged in activities ranging from the design of public institutions - including museums, performing arts centers, and university campuses - to the design of airports, housing, mixed-use complexes, and new communities. With offices in Jerusalem, Somerville, Massachusetts, Montreal and Toronto, Safdie and Associates has worked on projects ranging from the design of Habitat '67 in Montreal to the master planning of entire new cities around the world.
Among the firm's current commissions are: the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA; the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, CA; the Performing Arts Center in Orlando, FL; the National Sikh Museum in the Punjab in India; the permanent home for the U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington DC; the new building for the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, GA; and the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies in Tel Aviv. Exploration Place, a science center and children's museum, opened to much acclaim in Wichita, KS, in April 2000, and the Salt Lake City Public Library was opened in February 2003.
The design concept is premised on making the Campus a metaphor for archaeological excavation. The building is organized around three descending courtyards. All indoor space is located below street level so that the view across the valley is unencumbered, even as one enters the building.
A large, tensile canopy reminiscent of the tent-like canopies used to shade archaeological excavations covers the principal courtyard. It is constructed of a net of tensile cables supporting dark, fritted glass panels that allow light to filter through while providing an overall sense of shade. The roof canopy is tied down at its center to a pool in the courtyard below by a circular ring forming a hole in the canopy. When it rains, a waterfall drains into the pool below.
Below the canopy, the roof of the building covers archaeological study areas. The first three levels below are devoted to public space, including indoor study rooms, the library and reading hall, and bridges overlooking the laboratories as well as the State Collections. As the building descends down the hill, two additional courtyards are formed that are the focal points of internal activity.
The inward-facing surfaces of the building are clad with glass curtain walls and silver metal panels, while the outward-facing walls on the perimeter have additional stone wall screens which provide for shading, and visually anchor the structure into the surrounding rocky hillside of golden Jerusalem limestone. Thus the building palette is a counterpoint of earthly, hand-dressed stone set against glass and silver metal walls - all under the floating, dark glass canopy.
The program for the Campus incorporates the operational and research curation and education components of the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with a public outreach wing of study centers, encouraging public participation with the workings of the building.
The program includes laboratories and offices for the various departments as well as major storage vaults for State Collections, in which archaeological finds from many decades of excavations are stored by category. In addition to incorporating outdoor and indoor study and illumination centers, the program calls for an arrangement by which the public can view the specialized laboratories and State Collections without breaching the operational and security requirements for the building. The building will also accommodate a center for the research, conservation and education of the Dead Sea Scrolls, fifteen thousand fragments of which will be housed in the building.
Moshe Safdie, Architect