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Exhibitions > Urban Shade in Israel / Martin Weyl

This publication and the accompanying exhibition on display at Design Museum Holon are more than a documentation of current trends. They are a Call for Action. They are a plea for a new "recognition of shade" and for the creation of "shade-scapes" in our urban environments.

When we leave our home in the city during the scorching summer months, we immediately look for protection from the burning sun. However, in most instances we will not find it - not in front of our houses, not in the streets, not on the benches where we wish to rest, read, or enjoy our outdoor surroundings, not in the public squares, not in the urban gardens, not in the schoolyards or the areas dedicated to sports. We may find here and there, an "island of shade" to offer us shelter from the sun, but these are generally less than effective. We rush through the streets, hurrying to reach a bus stop and hoping for some air-conditioned reprieve from the summer heat, once we are aboard. If we are lucky, we will find some shade while we wait behind, but not inside, the bus stop. We climb up an outdoor staircase and we quickly break into a sweat. We feel uncomfortable, so we escape from the "light-polluted spaces" into cool air-conditioned "comfort zones" like shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants or random foyers in tall buildings. On a hot summer's day, urban centers that are especially dense may be 3-10 degrees hotter than peripheral areas, giving rise to the term "Urban Heat Islands". 

Living in the city does not have to be like this. The technology is available, so why have we failed to create a better quality of life in urban spaces? Surely it is important enough, as it affects everyone's daily lives. Could it be attributed to a lack of awareness among city planners, ecologists and architects, who continue to provide us with shadeless boulevards, public squares and parks? There are many ways to create cool, pleasant and comfortable outdoor spaces in our wonderful Mediterranean climate. We can influence the well being of communities, by simply paying more attention to the trees, pergolas and other shading devices available to them.

What must we do to place the subject of shade on the municipal agenda and reintroduce it into university syllabuses? Policy shapers need to dare to create a paradigmatic change and to "think outside the box". This includes politicians, budget managers, engineers, planners, ecologists, architects, landscape architects, botanists and educators. The Israeli city of the 21st century needs a shading umbrella that is all-encompassing, a canopy above parked cars, people, houses, offices, and especially public spaces.

Effective shading will have significant economic, ecological and social implications. It can help reduce energy consumption, slow down global warming and even enhance community interactions.
While shading is not the only component needed to create a pleasant micro-climate, it is certainly a major one. Other elements include radiation, reflections of materials and of course the weather.

A major change for the better could occur, if the regulator would require a "shading plan" to be included in all new construction plans of public spaces, presented to the various statutory building
committees. Furthermore, while trees are a major component in shading, the chief forester, who has heretofore played a minor role in urban planning, should be included in the committees and have
a serious say regarding new infrastructure, planting, tree care and supervision. His role should be much more proactive in guiding and educating municipalities, regional councils and communities on this subject matter. Part of the problem is that "underground conditions" that are often ignored, such as soil, moisture and root space, where urban practices need the greatest reform. Such transformations could generate new urban plantations and new mixed patterns of canopies of shade.

Architects And Shade

The founders of the State of Israel, were bothered by the state of the mountains, made barren due to centuries of erosion and neglect. With the help of the Jewish National Fund, large-scale reforestation was undertaken. Jewish children were often sent, like Boy Scouts, to collect people's small change across the world to raise money to plant a tree in the Holy Land. One thing, however, was neglected: most people in Israel live in cities and very few of the millions of trees that were planted over the years were planted in urban centers. Most Israeli cities were built in the 20th century, with a strong European and modernist influence, paying little attention to our local climate. As a whole, this period was quite disinterested in trees and landscaping. Most large municipal parks like those in London, Paris and New York were designed in the 19th century. Modernist landscape architects have rarely had as strong an impact on the field. Even a total design school like the German Bauhaus, which has a significant influence on construction in Palestine, omitted landscaping
from it's curriculum. 

Some of the giants of modernist architecture concentrated on light and shadow. Le Corbusier (1887-1965) defined architecture as the play of bodies under light. He did not view shadows as significant in themselves, but rather as counterparts to light. Le Corbusier's invention of the "brise soleil", was a protection from the heat in buildings, not a first step to study the urban shading problems of public spaces.

For Louis Kahn (1901-1974), light was the source of all things and shadow was its "brother". Kahn saw the architect as the great arranger of light and shadow: "Our work is shadow work and it belongs to the light". He was known for thinking that a room without natural light was not a proper room and that shadow was a result of architectural morphology, in which light played a major role, but it did not necessarily take human comfort into consideration. Ironically, the person who wrote about residents' feelings about the micro-climate in shaded houses was not an architect, but the Japanese author Junichiro Tanizake in his book "In Praise of Shadows".

Tanizake saw darkness as associated with coolness and he saw beauty in the various shades of the shadow. "In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth and in the pale light of a shadow we put together a house. There are of course roofs on western houses too, but they are less to keep off the sun than to keep off the wind and the dew". He
continued: "Our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in the shadows ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty's ends". Tanizake's perspective on the very sensitive relationship between man and shade or shadows, goes beyond comfort and endorses
a sense of aesthetics.

In the warmest climates like the tropics, the interior and exterior of a structure are defined by what
covers them, not by what separates them. For example, shaded areas in the street are outdoor rooms. "We move through narrow streets where we can walk primarily in the shade. In intersections we are exposed to light from above and we proceed again in the next shaded street section".

The suggested conclusion is that public spaces, parks, plazas and streets should be treated with more understanding of continuous shade. Architecture in Israel was predominantly in the hands of
immigrants, most of whom committed to the avant-garde trends and reflected the country's wish to erase the past and formulate a new collective language. This search had strong social overtones and to some degree sought to relate to local topography, climate and light. It succeeded, only in a narrow sense. Modernist architects saw buildings as objects or cubist white monoliths and failed to relate to the public spaces around them.

Arcades on the corner of Masaryk st. and Frishman st., Tel Aviv, 1953. photo: Zoltan Kluger Recessed balconies, Asia House, 2015
photo: Ilan Goren

True, Israel's modernist architects did make some efforts relating to "shadow recognition". In 1927, the leaders of the young city of Tel Aviv approved a master plan for the creation of a "garden city",
according to which rectangular building clusters should include central public gardens and green areas, which together with synagogues, kindergartens and other community buildings, would serve as the neighborhood's social-economic center. This plan was presented by Scottish sociologist and modernist planner Sir Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) and was characteristic of the lush English landscape - hardly appropriate for the climate in Palestine. Moreover, the plan aimed to create a "greening of the city", not necessarily to shade it. Nevertheless, two facets of architecture at the time did take shading into account. One was the creation of "the arcade", which sprung up throughout the country. A good example of this structure is the arcade on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv, where pedestrians can enjoy protection from the sun in the stores and cafes located at the interface between he housing blocks and the street. The other facet was the "recessed balcony", which intentionally created a shaded space: "Seated in their balconies, the occupants were active participants in the street life below". 

However, the architectural arcade never became a central element of urban planning and the recessed balcony was nearly totally abandoned. In fact, balconies were soon to be completely
isolated from the outdoors with shutters of various kinds. Houses became introverted, without a meaningful relationship to the public spaces around them. Sporadic heroic efforts were made by a handful of architects, like Nahum Zolotov and Daniel Havkin's covered passageways at "Carpet Settlement" in Beer Sheva, to create planned projects with climate control aspirations. Architects and planners concentrated on buildings and not on public spaces. They isolated themselves from a wider context of meaningful habitation and measured themselves exclusively according to formal aesthetic ideas, failing to consider some basic human needs.

There are fundamentally two ways to create shading in our cities: growing the right vegetation or by artificial means, like pergolas and architectural closures, arcades, overhangs and man-made canopies. 

A planted tree does not necessarily create a shaded area. Some species are more suitable for creating shade than others, provided they are planted in the correct soil and are nurtured and trimmed appropriately. In Israel, we still have a long way to go to adopt a useful urban ecology.

For many planners, trees are still considered a nuisance, because they take up valuable space. They often create dirt and debris, but more than anything else, they require care and resources. As a result, it seems that the number of trees in built-up areas are dwindling, while trees are often completely omitted from new construction plans. 

The terms "urban forests" and "community forests" have become common, especially in the U.S, as a result of growing involvement of the U.S. Forest Service, the American Forestry Association and academic research which together, have garnered admirable results. This has led to a surge in the publication of books, pamphlets, newsletters, periodicals, audio-visual and educational aids, as well as computer software for urban forest management, tree survey forms, tree care programs and more. Articles like: "Getting trees into urban design" or "In search of an ecological urban landscape", "Developing a successful urban tree ordinance", and "A new vision for our communities is needed", are becoming increasingly popular.

Stronger urban ecology movements are required, if we want more livable and happy communities through greater attention to trees. Trees planted around homes, along streets and in parking lots and parks, can mitigate "the heat islands" that develop in most urban communities. The resulting decrease in air conditioning use would help lower everyone's energy costs and reduce the pollution and exterior heat generation caused by this machinery.

Urban forests can also reduce carbon dioxide release and help curb global warming. Scientists have found out that a healthy urban tree can have an indirect effect upon carbon dioxide that is larger, because of the energy-conserving value of its shade and the cooling effect of transpiration. Filling empty spaces between houses and buildings with mature trees, could result in the saving of millions of kilowatts of electricity. This is particularly true in desert areas, where native trees and suitable vegetation can significantly reduce heat, while reducing the water demand of non-indigenous trees. In addition, trees absorb ambient noise and serve as dust protectors.

Even in cold-climate Northern European countries, universities are conducting research into trees as "temperature regulators". Their surveys demonstrate, that the public spoke of a pleasurable "thermal feeling" when shaded with the right vegetation during the summer months. In our relatively hot climate, a major policy change is possible if leading politicians like mayors, heads of regional councils and planners (such as city engineers and district planners) become more aware of the need to "recognize shade" and use that awareness to prevent the construction of shadeless open public spaces.

These influential figures could transform the urban experience, by choosing trees not only for their decorative qualities, i.e. palm trees that give an oriental feeling, but also for their practical shading qualities. To do so, time becomes a crucial consideration, as mature trees which provide more shade, are more expensive than young trees which need time to grow. In cases when young trees are planted, artificial constructions like temporary pergolas can provide relief. While trees, in general, may enhance the urban environment, some species create their own environmental challenges. The fruit of the Ficus tree, for example, attracts bats, whose excretions often mar the exterior of surrounding buildings. Olive trees shed leaves and fruit, requiring high levels of maintenance. Genetic engineering or other manipulations could prevent this.

Another important element in correct tree care is trimming. The amount of shade created by trees
could be dramatically enlarged if trees were properly trimmed: in most cases, a horizontal cut is better than a vertical orientation. Correct infrastructure is yet another element that creates good
urban forest. The right soil, sufficient root space and correct irrigation systems for each species are crucial. Trees will not grow well in small pits in the ground. Growth trenches are preferable, particularly if they can be combined with drainage systems in winter.


Pergolas can be effective if their design and location are carefully planned. Unfortunately, there are too many pergolas in public places that fail to provide the shade that is desperately needed, as they are placed in such a way, that the shade does not fall in an area that can be utilized.

A vivid example of this, is bus stations that are all designed according to a certain model, with no attention given to the sun's movement over the course of the day or in different times of year. All across Israel, it is not an uncommon sight to see people standing behind the stations, rather than under their roofing. The commuter's comfort demands greater consideration than it receives.

The most effective pergolas are usually those covered with foliage, provided that it is sufficiently dense and well nurtured. There are countless pergolas throughout the country that were erected with nothing but good intentions, yet they lack the correct planting and maintenance, and therefore stand today like skeletons in a barren land.

Since pergolas could provide shade, it is time to think about large structures that can cater to the public in vast open spaces. There are playgrounds and other private urban spaces where plastic nets serve as shading devices, with varying degrees of success. Proliferating the use of structures on this scale, should be a priority for urban planners. Architecture has long been familiar with methods of filtering light through permeable and porous constructions and materials, in order to create shade.

Today, the popular glass transparent skyscrapers have spearheaded new technologies of glass filtering. In fact, architectural material, due to its prevalence in the urban surroundings, is especially
relevant when considering the needs of open public spaces that create, as Henry Plummer put it, "woven air".

For example, one thing that could be exceedingly useful in the city during the Israeli summer, is a large scale "movable pergola" that could be moved from public gatherings in school yards, to open-air ceremonies at memorial monuments, to festivals, sports events and
even large funeral services.

Shade And The Soul

The text written above iterates the need to educate planners about the importance of shade design and calls on our community to adopt a "shading discipline", in which "the planning of shade" becomes an integral element in the creation of our urban surroundings.

However, besides the practical aspects of shade and shadow, there are other elements that profoundly impact our lives, such as multiple manifestations in the liberal arts and the humanities, from which planners could find inspiration. From early childhood we are exposed to the story of Peter Pan, who loses his shadow while trying to run away from the Darlings' house in London. Later, Wendy Darling manages to reattach it to his body.

Furthermore, astronomers during the time of Alexander the Great (4th century BC) discovered shade while studying heavenly bodies, and Galileo (1564-1642) related to the shadows cast by mountains
on the moon. These and later scientists, assumed that the theory ofshadows obeys geometric laws.

One of the best-known parables of western civilization is a mental experiment usually called "The Parable of the Cave", which appears in Plato's 7th book in The Republic. In the parable, Plato the philosopher suggests that humanity is imprisoned by the illusion that they see reality, but they are actually chained in a cave watching shadows on a wall. According to Plato, only when we look back toward the sun, like the philosopher does, do we see the shadows and realize that we have believed an illusion. For Plato, the shadow represents the stage that is farthest away from the truth. 

Cornelis van Haarlem, Plato's Allegory of the Cave,1604

Another well-known legend about shadows is the story that Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) tells about the first painting. As the legend goes, the first painting was created in ancient Greece, when the potter
Butades made a bust of a youth whom his daughter was in love with. The daughter drew the outline
of the youth's shadow on a wall upon which her father modeled the bust.12 It is apparent that Pliny was unaware of prehistoric cave paintings, dated back thousands of years.

It was not until the the Renaissance, that the shadow became an object of serious study for painters.13 Dante wrote in the Divine Comedy that the shadow is an indispensable quality of the body "the shadow of the flesh". This statement had a profound impact on the early Renaissance.
Dante's contemporary Giotto, first introduced shading into paintings during the 14th century in Italy, after which it became a central element of the representation of threedimensional space and perspective.

At the same time, it was believed that the shadow was an external manifestation of the soul. The first scientific approach to the shadow, was probably iterated by Leonardo da Vinci at the end of the 15th century, in his Codex Urbinas Latianus 1270. His incomplete study, has had a strong impact on painting, up until modern times.15 While Butades' daughter saw art as a shadow, European art infused the shadow itself with meaning. Goethe encountered God in man's shadow, and in 1913 the painter de Chirico claimed: "There are many more enigmas in the shadow of a man, who walks in the sun, than in all religions of the past, present and future".

During the second half of the eighteenth century, a trend of paper cut outs, named after Louis XV's finance minister Etienne de Silhouette, took Europe by storm. These silhouettes, which were based on shadows of shapes, were cherished by the upper classes and used as games.

With later art movements, the shadow was separated from representation and took on a life of its own, like in Cubism, Surrealism, Pittura Metafisica, and of course photography and film making. Pasolini, for example, stressed in his movies the intense light in Italian cities where residents basked in the sun for short periods of time. In his films, the shutters remain closed nearly all day
long. Renaissance painters were the first to represent shadows and its thinkers can be credited with being the first cognitive theorists, to combine painting and geometrical studies of shadows. Art theorists of the 17th century linked perspective to shadows.

Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767)

Giorgio De Chirico, Pomeriggio D'estate, 1972. Courtesy of Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Zürich/St. Moritz

Many other disciplines continue to investigate the subject of light and shadow/shade and the fascinating connection between the two. Cosmology grapples with the fact that half of the light in the universe is produced by the darkest of all entities: black holes. In psychotherapy, it is an accepted belief, that only through our "mental shadows" can we reach "the light" of understanding. For example, the renowned psychologist Carl Jung, used the term shadow to describe man's "dark side".

Shade is often mentioned in the bible and in early Jewish writings as well (see Prof. Avigdor Shinan's article in this volume). In literature, examples of shade and shadow are plentiful, such as Peter Schlemihl's "Miraculous Story", written by French novelist Adelbert von Chamisso and published in 1813. Peter, the protagonist of the book, sells his shadow to the devil.

Shade is a common theme in Israeli literature, notably appearing in poems by Nathan Alterman, Yehuda Amichai and in songs by singer-songwriter Yehuda Poliker, to name a few. 

Thoughts About The Science Of Shade Creation
There are several indications that shade-making was practiced in the past. Take, for example, the streets of Byzantium during the Crusades, which still exist in old markets in Jerusalem, Acre, and Istanbul. These streets were built as covered arcades that let the light in through small openings above. This allowed them to remain open all day, providing shade and protection from the heat.

Closed spaces with protection from the sun can also be found in the Kasbahs of North Africa and small villages in Spain and Italy, and are often built around a shaded square where the community
gathers. Could it be that the alleys in small Mediterranean towns were built so narrowly, in order to provide shade? What can we learn from historic architecture?

Urban actions in the summer months, such as crossing roads, waiting for the bus and sitting in cafés, generate a type of migration from the sun to the shade. What are the implications thereof?
The early eighteenth century saw in Europe, the development of the doctrine of the shadow, the "science des ombres", especially in architectural academies.

From these times until the 1970's, shade in architectural sketches, was usually arbitrarily drawn at a fixed 45 degree angle. This has little to do with light and shadow as they occur in nature, but
the science of shade has since made great strides. Since the 1970's, shadows and their role in perception, became a topic of research in its own right. The invention of the computer led to better experimentation and opened the field of architecture to a wider variety of possibilities.

Academic sketch of shadows

It is our hope, that our designers and planners will use these new discoveries to improve our open public spaces because, as the literature repeats: "A man without qualities is a man without a shadow". Along the same vein, it should be stated that, "Open public spaces without shade have no quality".

*Unless otherwise noted, all photos in this article were taken by Benny Gam Zo Letova

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