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An interview with the new campus architect

Lior Vitkon:

“The preservation and development of the Beit Bussel Campus sustains a historic legacy”

The just-completed masterplan for Zefat Academic College’s campuses is a vital step forward in the College’s development plan. The Beit Bussel Campus, including its historic buildings, will be the heart of Campus activities. The buildings will be preserved, with several to be utilized for academic functions.  The plan includes sensitive attention to the unique character of the campus and its historic buildings.

ZAC’s administration held a competition for architects to qualify for the planning of the Center for Medical Instruction and the broader plan for new buildings and the entire campus. The competition was conducted under the auspices of the Rashi Foundation, with the participation of five architects. The judges’ panel included experts in preservation, among them Professor Nitza Mtetzger-Samook, Professor Mike Turner and architect Ruthie Libert Shilo.

The competition’s winner was the Tsionov-Vitkon Architectural Firm, and the plan for the future of Beit Bussel was shared by architect Lior Vitkon.

Q. Tell us about the Beit Bussel Project planned for Zefat Academic College

A. The project is unique. The land is on the outskirts of Zefat’s Old City, on the slope facing the valley. The campus has a number of singular historic structures, and each one has its own story. The campus is more than a hundred years old, and it is, for the most part, very neglected. ZAC plans to develop the campus and to establishing the Center for Medical Simulation (in partnership with the MSR Center in Tel-Hashomer), alongside the ZAC Nursing School, Student Center, Exercise and Physiotherapy Center and the Cafeteria. It is a significant challenge to build a campus, restore and preserve the existing buildings and also allow for all the buildings’ new functions.  Guiding principles will include taking advantage of underground spaces, and engineering work to connect the old and new buildings.

Q. What is the core principle for the planning?

A. The basis for the planning is linked to the principles upon which the campus was built more than a hundred years ago. The entire campus was the full domain and the inner courtyard was the central courtyard which provided the entry ways to all the buildings. The entire campus was built on the slope of a hill and main axis was, and remains, open to the surrounding landscape. These principles will be preserved in the new campus. All of the new building will be done close to the walls and will be bound by the walls so that the central courtyard will remain as it was. Structures built on slopes will be designed so that they don’t block the view from the upper campus.  All of the buildings will be built on the topographic slope which descends to the north. Longstanding trees and the remains of gardens and orchards will be preserved. Just as the buildings will be preserved, emphasis will also be given to the preservation of the environment of the landscape.

Q. How does one deal with the integration of old and new?

A. The integration of old and new will be carried out in keeping with the fundamental need. Each building will receive the care it requires. The project begins in the West Wing, where the hospital building and the remains of the medical clinics now stand. The planned building will be one complete structure and will include both the historic structures and the new wings together.  The planning includes strengthening and stabilizing the current buildings, and restoring and completing the components that were damaged over the years. The elements that were built at a later date and are not original to the campus will be taken down and not preserved. The underground engineering works and the pathways to the buildings which will be expanded will also receive careful attention. The engineering needed to do this work is very complex, and will be done with sensitive attention to detail all along the way.

Q. What, in your view, will be the contribution of your collaboration—to the College, Zefat, and the region?

A The historic buildings tell a fascinating story about the past of Zefat and the region.  ZAC’s decision to develop this campus and, at the same time, preserve its historic memory honors the space and its heritage. To a certain extent, it creates a monument and a legacy. For example, the history of the Physician’s House and the Hospital will, in the future, be linked to the study and practice of paramedical studies. From our perspective, this adds value to our architectural enterprise. The historic campus will be preserved, its internal structure will be expanded and the open areas will be allocated for the benefit of the students, city residents and visitors who will be invited to learn about this historic site, which tells the story of Zefat in the contemporary era.

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