A former 19th-century French hospital is now one of Tel aviv’s prime spots
Probably not the first architect that would spring to mind for an august reboot of a historical site, John Pawson earned his now very esteemed reputation as a minimalist.
Opening shortly in Tel Aviv, The Jaffa hotel, located within a derelict 19th-century French pilgrim hospital, and incorporating an extraordinary ancient archaeological site discovered during the renovation, is the latest project of architect John Pawson. Liz Morris discovers the magic
White boxes. Big, new, white boxes are his usp. so, it’s intriguing that he yielded not just a little, but flipped his aesthetic at The Jaffa, which is all renaissance-style arches and vaults and pillars and stainedglass windows dating from 1879. But did he? It depends what you call minimalism.
Maybe it’s more about a light touch? certainly this was the approach needed when, during the preliminary excavations before work began, a cache of archaeological sites, including a wall that dates from the 13th-century crusades, and beneath that more walls from previous invasions – Jaffa city was established during the Bronze age – were unearthed. John, in collaboration with a team of restoration experts headed by local architect ramy gill, acknowledged that hallowed ground rules.
For both John and aby rosen, the new York real estate tycoon who bought the site over a decade ago, it’s been a passion project. ‘The Jaffa is a five-star hotel in the way a five-star hotel should be. You arrive as a guest and find yourself immersed in a dream, in a world of storytelling,’ he comments. Known for two of the most spellbindingly chic hotels in new York, gramercy Park and 11 howard, aby’s style eye is exemplary as a curator of sensorial urban edens, so when he says he was ‘involved in choosing every detail, each nuance of creating a unique, memorable experience’, you can believe it. his vast art collection though, save for the damien hirst Spin painting and george condo sculptures
in the lobby, is not being showcased here because there is no need. The walls at The Jaffa, restored to their original frescoes and honey hued travertine, are beautiful enough naked. This is the point, possibly, of John Pawson. ‘While paying close attention to detail and simplicity, to proportionality, what we created is in fact comfort. an enclave of quiet and beauty, with natural flow between the spaces. Beyond the vast cultural and historical context, this is first and foremost a place where one can be comfortable, a place that gives architectural comfort and a sense of intimacy,’ John explains.
so, what’s the hotel like? It’s contextual cool. a marvellous communion of ancient and contemporary with dreamy views over the old town and port of Jaffa. There’s the old part, formerly the French hospital and cloister, and a new building, comprising 120 hotel rooms and suites. The interiors juxtapose contemporary design and historic culture to celebrate and connect to Tel aviv’s vibrant Jaffa neighbourhood, which is hip, artistic and movie-set ready in real life. Playing a feature role in the design of the hotel’s lobby area is the excavated crusader wall, made all the more striking by the overt contemporariness in the rest of the space.
There’s an outdoor pool and lounge, great restaurants and a deli, but The chapel Lounge & Bar is possibly the most marvellous of all as an architectural blend of the past and present. In the evenings, with lit candles and music, it is a magically transportive space. There’s an elegance, and a deft conservation of visual information, in fact just enough, to prompt you to feel in the now, in a romantic past life and yet completely somewhere new. The Jaffa is a member of Marriott International’s The Luxury Collection brand. The Jaffa
thejaffahotel.com; John Pawson johnpawson.com
the lobby of the jaffa hotel in tel avivopposite page ancient and contemporary meet in the hotel’s impressive bar and lounge, the chapel
clockwise, from top left john pawson; aby rosen; the restored walls feature minimal art and adornment to showcase the original colouringopposite page, from toprestored details in the upper parts of the chapel; the detailed balconies of the hotel
the rooms are dressed in neutral, calming tones