cover image Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City

Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City

Adina Hoffman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-3742-8910-2

Buildings from a crucial era in modern Palestinian history evoke lost possibilities of cultural unity and harmony, in this scintillating study of politicized architecture. Hoffman (House of Windows) profiles three architects working in Palestine under British rule from 1918 to 1948: Erich Mendelsohn, a celebrated refugee from Nazi Germany; Austen St. Barbe Harrison, an ex-pat British civil servant; and the all-but-forgotten Spyro Houris, designer of elegant Jerusalem houses, whose obscure life reveals the multicultural world of Greek Orthodox Arabs. Hoffman’s lively portraits feature the usual melodrama between visionary architects and philistine, penny-pinching funders, heightened by the turmoil of a Palestine rife with violence between Arabs and Jews, shadows of war and exile, and demands that Jewish architects use only Jewish workers and suppliers. She sets their stories against the backdrop of present-day Jerusalem, which she pungently portrays as tacky, squalid, and wracked by religious hatred. Sadly, her subjects’ graceful building are often disfigured by menacing security barriers. Hoffman’s sensitive architectural appreciations show how these architects blended European Modernist styles with Ottoman and Arab motifs in a Utopian impulse towards an inclusive, cosmopolitan society. The result is both vivid architectural criticism and an illuminating meditation on why Jerusalem’s divisions now seem intractable. B&w illus. Agent: Miriam Altshuler. (Apr. )