Daniel Weil: Returning to the Light
From June 2004, I spent five and a half years designing the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archeological Wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. When the wing was opened in July this year, to great acclaim, I felt proud and very privileged to have been part of the renewal and elevation of a great museum to world class status.
Returning there in November allowed me to see the wing from the point of view of a visitor – to experience the unique chronological narrative in its galleries. And what I saw most clearly was the story of light. The light of Jerusalem is the major protagonist in the Archeological Wing’s experience, as the journey of this unique history goes from dark to light, triggering the emotions of the visitor.
First I walked into the entrance gallery where there is no natural light: a theatre (in centre stage, the extraordinary sarcophagi from Canaan. Then followed the natural light into Gallery 1 (The Dawn of Civilisation, 1.5million to 6,500 B.C.), arranged from dark colour to light colour: the first human hunter gatherers (120,000 B.C.) to agricultural settlements (10,000 B.C.) and metallurgic revolution (Copper Age, 6,500 B.C.).
Then I journeyed through a cave-like space into the Bronze Age, Gallery 2 (The Land of Canaan 3,500 to 1150 B.C.). I was struck how the sun shone through the high perimeter windows onto the gallery’s back wall, highlighting the magnificence of the original 1962 building designed by Alfred Mansfeld now completely restored and inhabited by remarkable archaeological finds such as the two basalt lions from Hazor.
From there I walked into the Iron Age Gallery 3 (Israel and the Bible, 1150 to 586 B.C.) where the morning sunlight guided me into the three magnificent spaces from kingdoms to exile into Gallery 4 (Greeks, Romans and Jews, 333 B.C. to 70 A.D.) – a gallery with large windows and outside views.
I passed through this gallery of enlightenment and into Gallery 5 (Under Roman Rule, 70 to 330 A.D.), a dark passage with the imposing bronze bust of Hadrian illuminated at its centre, aligned with the marble beauty of Aphrodite which was glowing in natural light.
I then faced the most theatrical experience of all, Gallery 6 (The Holy Land, 330 to 750 A.D.). This gallery, celebrating three co-existing monotheistic religions, is four times larger and more dramatic than the other galleries and is crowned and framed by 360 degree skylights to striking effect.
Finally I arrived at the last chapter, Gallery 7 (Muslims and Crusaders, 750 to 1517 A.D.) in which European stone carvings and frescoes competed for attention with Ayyubid and Mamluk artifacts and stone carvings.
All in all, I spent two full days in the galleries: mornings, afternoons and evenings – three different experiences, each one a celebration of the architecture, the archeological finds and light.