College or university campuses are generally located in dense urban areas (e.g., Sorbonne in Paris; Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts) or on the outskirts of the city (e.g., University of British Columbia in Vancouver). In the latter instance, the sprawling suburbs have at times reached and even surrounded the once-isolated campus. The University of Haifa fits into this last category, though for the seeable future it will remain the last fronteir of the urban push, since it adjoins Israel’s largest verdant preserve, the Carmel National Park.
The original campus design was sketched by the famed architect of Brasilia, Oscar Niemeyer, who envisioned a massive horizontal main building feeding into a tall tower. This pair would be a self-contained entity: everything, or almost everything, the student wanted under one roof: classrooms, laboratories, faculty offices, library, and administrtive offices. It seemed a reasonable solution to the extreme weather conditions, especially in the winter, that mark the University’s location atop a Mt Carmel ridge. One need never step outside.
That advantage, however, was also its disadvantage. There was no feeling of a campus, a word derived from the Latin word for a plain or field and that has become synonymous with university. Indeed the location of the University of Haifa a combination of the most pleasant of backdrops for a campus: the sea, mountains, green forests, and the fresh air of a mountain ridge. In conjunction with the vast growth in student body, there was a need to change the concept of the University’s design. There was a need to introduce a real campus. And the feeling that one could go outside and still be within the University.
It took, as I have reported in this column, six years of deliberations and overcoming procedural hurdles of obtaining the requisite permits before the New Master Plan was recently given final governmental approval. The new dominating concept is that of controlled decentralization, building on a smaller scale, giving the feeling of walking in open spaces between buildings, and perhaps most importantly the identification of a specific physical structure with a particular academic unit.
The change in concept was executed by Yaacov Rechter, a well-known Israeli architect whose credits include many important architectural landmarks in this country. The new campus design does a better job of correlating structures to the topography of the site. Allowing less vertical movement, the new plan is also more open to the value of the view of the Galilee, the surrounding Carmel Mountains, and the Mediterranean Sea. It will be possible in the not-too-distant future to stroll along well-developed promenades, with gardens and mini-plazas, to enjoy the view, both of nature and of architectural design.
It is true that the Eshkol Tower acted as a kind of beacon, for it could be seen from the northern Galilee to half-way to Tel Aviv. If afforded, too, a magnificent view of the Mediterranean and Zevulun valley. It was, however, perhaps better suited to Brasilia than to the green hills of the Carmel, whose skyline it broke. It kept students and staff indoors and academic units intermixed. It may have identified the University from afar, but it did not give students in its elevators the feel of a campus.
Psychologists say that physical structure impacts on the behavioral approach on campus. I am confident that the new design, which has now embarked on large-scale implementation, will influence students in a positive manner and at last provide them with what is often missing from Israeli universities—a real campus atmosphere.