123 THE JAFFA HOLY HOTEL
In Tel Aviv, John Pawson has transformed a 19th century hospital and convent into a spectacular hotel. The faithful minimalist has blended Arabic, classical and contemporary styles
«We stimulated an intelligent conversation between two different centuries, so that there’s nothing forcing them together. No fake ornamentation, just the below-ground space. Think of is as a couple who are touching each other under the table whilst keeping straight faces». Ramy Gill is the Israeli architect who, in collaboration with the English master of minimalism John Pawson, has harmonised the abandoned structure of a 19th century French hospital with a completely new building. That’s how the Jaffa was born, the first property in Tel Aviv owned by the American group RFR Holding, which has entrusted it to Marriott International for their Luxury Collection: 120 rooms and suites (plus 32 residential apartments) that dominate the ‘Shuk Hapishpishim’ (the flea market) and the harbour as seen from the promontory of ancient Jaffa. The thousands of years of stratification of this place required Pawson to strike a delicate equilibrium: «preserving the memory of the building›s history and not giving the impression of dishonouring its previous life, but without jeopardising its current function and vitality either». Aby Rosen, the powerful property tycoon of RFR ‒ whose ties to Israel date back to his childhood and the origins of his family ‒ describes the Jaffa as his most complex and personal project. If it’s no wonder that this five-star hotel has already become an icon of Tel Aviv, that’s thanks in particular to the spectacular lounge bar ‘The Chapel’, a new nightlife hot spot that still has the original vaulted ceilings, frescoes, and stuccoed details of the old chapel (but from which the sacred symbols have been removed) and an altar transformed into a bar counter with a console for DJ sets. In place of the austere mahogany benches is the 70s softness of mustard-coloured velvet Botolo stools by Cini Boeri, and powder-pink ottomans. Meanwhile from up above, next to the original stained glass windows, every weekend Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck and other giant-size 1950s Hollywood stars enjoy a show that’s decidedly pagan. The materials that Pawson conceived for the Jaffa are stone, light, and time. «For an architect», he explains, «light and shade are key materials in their own right. This is particularly true in Jaffa, where the powerful light throws everything into a golden glow». With great sensitivity, the architect has incorporated and exalted the local culture, as in the case of the mashrabiya, the protective wooden grilles that adorn the doorways and windows of traditional buildings, and which are also found here in the metal screens with arabesque motifs and the finely perforated balconies. In the modernist lobby, a fragment of an ancient fortification erupts out of the floor: a presence all the more extraordinary because it is the only surviving example, in the whole of the Middle East, of a circular bastion dating from the Crusader era. It now cohabits with classic design pieces by Shiro Kuramata and Pierre Paulin, the contemporary art of Damien Hirst, and the Shesh Besh (backgammon) tables that Pawson himself designed as a homage to the traditional pastime of Arab merchants. In this place of extraordinary historical richness, and in the patterns, motifs of the area and its cultural diversity, but above all in the 128-square-metre King David suite, Pawson has known how to exalt «the spectacular panoramic views over the rooftops of the old town, the vast expanse of the beach, and the skyline of Tel Aviv».