While Portland’s Architectural Heritage Center works diligently to restore and preserve some of Portland’s earliest buildings and neighborhoods, the Pearl District and South Waterfront are on the frontier of Portland’s newest and most innovative building projects. While those that that adore the curves and detail of the Meier & Frank building on SW 5th Ave. may
cringe when they see towers of glass in their beloved downtown, the developers and residents of The Meriwether in the South Waterfront district obviously are quite keen on modern edges and straight lines. The challenge of balancing the architectural past with its contemporary companions is not easy. On a recent trip to Israel, I found one city which manages to do just that.
Deep ivory, gentle brown, soft orange, light pink …these are among the many hues you will see in the stone lined streets of Jerusalem. And these are among the only colors you will see across the built landscape. In a city where street signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English and where one church has worship spaces dedicated to at least 5 different religious groups,there is one element that marries this ancient city with the modern one it is becoming, limestone.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, a 1920 ordinance required that all buildings be faced with Jerusalem limestone. This means that restoration projects and new projects alike are built with this effervescent stone. Yet, limestone found its niche in Jerusalem architecture long before the ordinance. Jerusalem’s history was established with the building of Solomon’s First Temple in the 10th century B.C.E. as recorded in the Bible. At that time, Jerusalem limestone had already established itself as a staple building material. “David was commanded to gather together the aliens who were in the land of Israel, and he set stonecutters to prepare dressed stones for building the house of God,” reads the 22nd chapter of 1 Chronicles. Al-Aqsa Mosque now stands in the place of the First Temple and since that first construction project, the land switched hands from Persian ownership, to Roman, to Muslim, to Crusader, to Ottoman, to British, to Israeli.
Through each of these different eras, new buildings were constructed, new walls and new towers – all made from Jerusalem limestone. This is not so hard to imagine considering that most building practices around the globe involve using local materials out of necessity, not idealism. However, the centuries-old city of Jerusalem is turning into a first-world modern city where the current question in planning is how high a sky scraper can stand over the city. Mason Cooley, an English professor at College of Stanten Island said, “A skyscraper is a boast in glass and steel.” Limestone is not included in his definition; which is the beauty of the 1920 mandate.
Citizens of and visitors to modern Jerusalem see ancient city gates, 18th century living quarters and mid-construction high rises all made of Jerusalem limestone. In a city with so much diversity and such a delicate political climate, the golden hue that glows against the city’s limestone at sunrise and sunset unify this unique city and creates a palette for political and architectural peace.
All photos by Lisa Marie Morgan