Finding Inspiration in the Israel Design Scene

Most people don’t think of the Middle East as a creative wonderland, but they should. Find out how designers thrive along the Mediterranean.

It seems surreal. As if it isn’t a real place but just the stuff postcards are made of: Beaches and coral reefs bask beneath the Mediterranean sun. Ruins crumble with the rich history of lives lived in centuries past. Bazaars come alive with hustle and bustle. Shepherds care for sheep in lush green hills and pastures. Tribal herdsmen lead camels through the rough, rocky desert sands. Tourists swim in the same seaside waters that Jesus is said to have walked on. This is the land of Israel, a relatively tiny country—slightly smaller than New Jersey—in the Middle East. In spite of its modest stature, the beauty that exists here is big, breathtaking and bold. It should come as no surprise, then, that all of this splendor has given rise to a thriving creative spirit and industry. Designers from all over the world are coming to Israel’s shores to experience

THE DESIGN SCENE

In 1906, artist Boris Schatz founded the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem. Over the next century, the school blossomed along with the country’s burgeoning design scene, and today, the school known as Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious art schools.

It wasn’t until the 1930s, however, that the current design scene really started to evolve. Artists, craftsmen and designers from all over the world immigrated to Israel, mostly to escape persecution in the years leading up to World War II. During this decade, there was enough need that they established The Association of Jewish Commercial Artists in Palestine along with other professional artists groups.

Now, one of the hubs of the country’s talent is in Tel Aviv, the second most populous city and the largest metropolitan area in Israel. In fact, it got its start during the 1930s when German Jewish architects who had immigrated to the area began erecting thousands of buildings in the iconic Bauhaus style. These days, there are
more than 4,000 such buildings throughout the city, earning it the nickname “The White City” and a designation as the largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings in the world.

Tel Aviv–based creative Jonathan Saragossi, who is also the founder of IM Creator, a free online website builder, notes that “Israel doesn’t have a strong design history like Germany or Switzerland do.” But that isn’t a bad thing. “I believe that lacking historical roots in design actually helps us take more risk and be more extreme, as we’re not beholden to any aesthetic past,”
he says.

“There is no place like Israel,” says designer Cynthia Fish. “It is a country with deep soul. The people, the scenery, the smells, the architecture, the unique character—all previously foreign to me—all contributed to the most incredible experience of my life thus far.”

“There is no place like Israel,” says designer Cynthia Fish. “It is a country with deep soul.
The people, the scenery, the smells, the architecture, the unique character—all previously
foreign to me—all contributed to the most incredible experience of my life thus far.”


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