Work begins on Israel’s first purpose-built haven for abused women and children. Tamsin Bradshaw reports on the project initiated by the charity NoToViolence.
It’s a project that has been six years in the making, and one that has met with considerable opposition from the local community. Finally, however, work is underway on Israel’s first purpose-built shelter for abused women and their children. For the architects involved, as well as for Ruth Rasnic, founder of charity NoToViolence, it’s the realisation of a longstanding dream.
In fact, it was the combined dream of Rasnic – whose tireless work to combat domestic violence in the Middle East has earned her the prestigious Israel Prize – and Tamar de Shalit, who designed the courtroom for Eichmann’s trial. Sadly de Shalit did not live to see construction begin, but her son, London-based architect Amos Goldreich, founder of Amos Goldreich Architecture, has been heavily involved from day one and continues to work with Jacobs-Yaniv Architects on the ground in Israel.
“It’s been a long struggle to get where we are,” says Goldreich. “It’s been to the high court three times. The neighbours objected fiercely to the project – they were worried it could decrease the value of their property.” Adds Tamar Jacobs, co-founder of Jacobs-Yaniv Architects, “They were nervous about the shelter disrupting the peace of where they are.”
Piling and earth works have begun, and the team hope that the 800-square-metre property in the centre of Israel will be active and receiving abused women and their families within 18 months.
The centre, which will be named after Goldreich’s grandmother, Ada (who was a “true feminist,” says Goldreich), will welcome women of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds. “Arab women, Jewish women… whoever needs help,” explains Jacobs.
With space for around 12 families, the shelter has 14 rooms that will be constructed as individual living spaces – giving each family privacy – around a central courtyard. “We saw the shelter as a kind of village,” says Goldreich. “Every room is a separate entity. There is a nursery for the children, so every morning the mothers take the children out of their ‘houses’ and go to the nursery.”
“There’s a proper kitchen, a proper dining area, a proper garden. These are the kinds of things Ruth hasn’t had in her shelters [in the past],” says Jacobs. “The other buildings have been given by the municipality they’re in; they’re existing buildings that have had to be adapted to the situation. Here we had a blank page to design from scratch. It’s not a box with bars, there’s actually life inside.”
The central courtyard is the “beating heart” of this shelter, says Jacobs. Here, there is the garden and play area for the children, and the buildings huddle around this open space. Beyond the buildings is an inner façade that is “tactile,” says Goldreich, and circling this is an external façade that overlooks the surroundings. “There is a high fence that is a [security] requirement,” says Goldreich.
The shelter is designed to bring people in, while giving them the feeling of being outdoors. “On the one hand, the garden provides protection because it’s inside, but on the other, the families can feel like they’ve been able to go out and get some fresh air,” explains Jacobs.
As well as making its inhabitants feel safe and giving them a private space, the shelter’s design has to be hardwearing, says Jacobs. “There is a lot of vandalism [in these shelters], because the children arrive from broken homes. They’ve been exposed to violence, so they ruin things.”
As a result, the shelter will be clad in “composite brick,” says Jacobs. “It’s got to look good for a long time.” At the same time, the architects wanted to keep the space from feeling institutional. “It will be warmly cut rounded brick,” she adds.
Aside from the protracted negotiations with community and government, creating a livable space has been one of the key considerations for Jacobs and Goldreich. Says Jacobs, “The most exciting challenge for me was to try to find a way to create life in the building. [We want to] create a space that will provide a bit of positivity for these women, to provide them with hope.”
Amos Goldreich Architecture