The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:400] Humble and great


The young man appeared out of nowhere, skipping between patches of the

lamps’ dim light. Equipped with nothing more than flip-flops and a

book, he entered the library briskly. After bowing to the welcoming

librarian, he paced to his favorite book section, pulled out a book

and began reading vigorously under the scarlet twilight sunbeams.

Time was crawling, the place had taken on an “urban –fortress like

character “, the low ceiling embraced the light which permeated

through the “slit like window”, wandering over the ceiling and

changing the sacred atmosphere. Now, the man was mumbling as though he

was a monk, preying and wobbling devotionally.

Even though its small measurements, the library produces a great

experience and ensures a variety of sensations. Admittedly we would

expect such architectural feelings to take place in large scale and

high budget buildings, designed by well-known professionals.

Here we are exposed to the sanctum-sanctorum , the “wet dream” of

modern architecture – low cost with restrained design, yet its

richness has numerous virtues.

It seems that sacred public space sheds its own “architectural

dignity” and humbly absorbs what was first pronounced by the ancient

Greeks - “genius – loci”.

The Greeks, in their sensitive way, were able to feel the vibrating

pulse of a given environment, and excavates the “spirit of the place”

- in Greek “Genius loci”.

The greatest achievement of these “Geniuses” was the development of an

outstanding architectural skill which produces lovely places. The

Greeks’ ancestors could use a wizard- like ability to intercept a dull

deserted hill with nothing more than a wrinkled olive tree and a few

rocks and forge there a wondrous public shrine.

The method of this process developed carefully,

First the Greeks scrutinize the character of the site by exploring

virginal routes toward it and gave specific attention for certain


Afterwards they gently placed an alter on top of the hill in a point

that would reveal the environments best scenes and adequate for the

believers’ assembly. In an unexplained way, a flow of believers

washed the deserted hill almost immediately. Gathered together

densely, worshiping their gods vigorously, their docile silhouettes

were bent in the breezy wind.

Now, we can conclude about a certain issue; The Greek architectural

ancestors had a magnificent virtue,

Their ability to peel the layers of chaos and discover the strata of

holiness. They were delicately exposing the true DNA of a “site” and

made it a “place”- this is what architecture is all about.

Well … thousands of years have passed since the wise Greeks had done

their architectural magic, yet it seems nothing has changed…

In a specific location in Haifa, a northern port city in Israel, the

library enjoys being soaked in the Carmel Mountain’s green slopes.

Through coiled paths, the place is being dimly discovered between the

rustling pine trees that swing and cradle the building gently. The

humid Mediterranean winds teasing the place’s envelope and pat the

place's walls softly.

These walls function as a selective membrane of the urban upheaval,

soothing the unwanted sounds from entering the place in order to

create a specific experience.

Opened to the public only in the afternoon, nearly no sound penetrates

the “educational – fortress” except muffled cheers of kids playing

outside- a pleasant sound in an urban area. The unique voice of

squeaky kids declares that day life proceeds and the vitality of youth

encompass the adjacent environment.

-I do remember the first time I visited the library and was charmed by

its vivid surrounding. This surrounding

has peculiar interaction with the educational public space.

The sacred place, the special library, it is as if it radiates and

creates a certain halo- “public –halo”. that

“halo” is a vast space that embraces the “sanctuary of knowledge” and

is saturated in its influential presence.

We can roughly divide that extraordinary space into three imaginary

rings; each ring has a different relationship with the library’s

functioning. Even though we visited the area quickly, the “halo” was

felt strongly.

The last rays of the sallow sun were retreating feebly as

we slowly headed to the library, thin gravel cracked under our shoes

while low manicured bushes escorted and curved with us.

We lingered on the threshold for a moment; our eyes met a glossy wide

door. The darkened windows deceived us - it seemed as though it was

too quiet to be active.

We declared our coming, protruding the outer shell,

The first ring, the heart of the place, revealed its magnificent

innards, exposing its complete beauty.

Our eyes took a hasty glimpse as they grew accustomed to the

shimmering lights; our ears received thuds of books being fluttered.

Faint chattering of excited People, exchanging reading experience

could be heard in the immediate area, though not a single word could

be understood properly.

Indicated by dense book shelves, dark furniture, shorty columns and of

course walls, each space has a unique character suitable to a certain

population sector. This fact increases the chances of meeting adequate

reading colleagues, with similar book preferences. Several scenes

were happening while we stepped slowly into that cosmic books hall.

A Grandfather fascinates his grandchildren by imitating lord Dracula’s

deep voice, a young boy recumbent on the fluffy carpet, amazed by

"Sherlock Holmes" tales

All those occasions occur frequently, the figures may change ,however

the scene is almost the same.

After the condensed injection of great inner space,

Suddenly ,For some reason we feel seduced by an unconscious feeling

that there is more than this wondrous place.

Our body being shoved by the soul back to the entrance,

Now everything seems logic…

Great architecture does not end in its walls, when one feels the

presence of the building- there it begins.

We scan the area briefly, a playground

and a kinder garden are in a hand reach, apparently we are sunken in a

unique “social- habitat” .

As though to ratify my “social assumption”, Alex, a friend of mine and

a fellow comics books enthusiast, jumps over a few chiseled steps in

my direction.

“Hey is that the last copy?!? He tries to decipher the half hidden

book hooked under my left arm. To be honest he perfectly knew what it


Unfortunately my hesitation exposed the truth…

“A…I think … maybe… you should…” I fail answering him instantly and

stutter an awkward sentence.

“NO YOU CAN NOT!!!” he takes a deep pace, terrorizing my safe holds.

My left leg is completely numb preventing me of escaping in my secret

emergency lane.

But I do not lose my mind, regulating a self controlled duchess

manner- Alex retreats…

After the situation is solved Alex keeps sting my conscious with his

regular complaining hoarse voice, while we clamber to the small


But I'm not listening to him, as my thoughts wander…have we just left

another halo’s ring?!?

While we were arguing about the comics book, the second ring of the

“public halo” wrapped the embarrassing situation.

That ring expands over the library threshold’s area, consisted of

people who incidentally met each other in recent library visits.

Exactly like me and Alex; we are both comics’ fans and know each other

since he once intercepted a “Spiderman” rare copy in my heavy comics

pile. The major part of these random meetings occurred while

exchanging “shocking-ends recommendations” or other specific feelings

that aroused Goosebumps.

All the involved characters have had in common just a hint of passion

for literature, but from now on… who knows…

Alex is apparently still not satisfied, he clambers the steps wearing

a rigid expression, keeping his bully shoulders parallel to mine, his

eyes still fixed upon my comics book.

In that exact moment, the flourishing kinder garden appears in its

full vitality, successfully easing the uncomfortable situation.

A Woman cradles her baby while scanning her recently loaned book and a

young girl painting a ginger cat, which embellishes a colorful zoology

pamphlet. Simultaneously in some of the playground’s shady corners

,impatient youngsters can be seen reading the first pages of the third

part of a trilogy. All these activities can be done alone - if one

wants to achieve a private situation, or in a group for a more

social mixed activity.

In my opinion, the co-existence between the people, the tolerance for

the others needs in that marvelous place, this, this is what makes

that garden desired by the people.

Suddenly a bunch of kids bustling around the water tap increases the

levels of noise in the atmosphere, though no one seems to be upset

about the sudden intrusion.

The kids are drifting to a street near the main road of the

neighborhood. Their youth has some unique grace – so naive but still

carrying a certain level of maturity.

As my friend and I leave the kindergarten and its calm atmosphere, a

staggering old man with a cylinder hat bids us farewell.

We turn our heads back to the immediate environment of the library.

From this point of view, everything is apparently simple and


The “educational castle” emits pinches of people from its guts. From

the guts-the first “public halo” ring, piled with heavy books ,the

people pass through to a second ring - the threshold area between the

the emerald green vegetation.

Some of their faces seem to be clear, as they stride in my direction

revealing their familiar features. Alex and I decide to accompany

these people in order to explore the place from their point of view.

They pass by the swarming kindergarten, cross the serene playground,

just a fraction of a second before they ascend to the main road.

Its seems as though something has been dissipated…

That is the third ring of the “public halo”- stretched from the

adjacent facilities to the cobblestone of the main road.

After arriving at the main road, the library loosens its tight grip

over its immediate environment - the peaceful mood evolves to a busy

frantic street.

We take one last glance over what we left behind; there is no doubt

it’s a seamless ,well defined area.

Bus number 29 groans as it comes to a halt, carrying me and Alex to

the city center. Looking back through the thin mist that was pressing

itself against the bus window, I gaze over two high buildings. One of

Those buildings occupies the library.

My mind was busy thinking, thinking about the sanctuary of knowledge.

Why is it so successful and draws attention although it’s modest


It turns out that in the 70's, a conductor called “Bleicher group”

built two similar dwelling buildings in the young neighborhood “Ahuzat


Those buildings are the highest buildings in the entire neighborhood

and have a prominent appearance in Haifa’s curvy skyline. Following

that construction, a diverse concentration of hundreds of dwellers was

created due to the new buildings and an adequate public space was


The amazing thing in the response for that social need is the

precision and the gentleness in the way it was entwined.

Jonathan, a veteran resident states as we interview him: “I think that

in the beginning, when the buildings were almost fully occupied, the

library wasn’t active at all. Maybe because the municipality didn’t

acknowledge the importance of such educational public spaces.

Then, after a few months, a rumor was spread about a new attraction in

the building . I remember the first time I visited the library, when

actually I was not a books fan. My brother asked me to bring his book

“Dune” back to the library. Though I was reluctant to do this “older

brother favor”, I do remember the specific moment that I stepped into

the library wearing a pair of embarrassing shorts and I noticed a

bunch of kids exploring the science – fiction section.

Since that day, I haven’t missed an opportunity for visiting that

“books stronghold” and meeting these kids." Jonathan gives a great

sigh and continues;” I can compare this situation to a complex puzzle-

game; When we assemble a puzzle, first we turn to the major parts of

it and try to figure out the clear picture it represents .In the

second stage we must fill these unfinished patches that we left

uncompleted in order to reveal the picture’s details. The last stage

and the most exciting one is putting the last piece of the puzzle.

Suddenly the delightful scene is exposed, exactly like the library and

its lovely environment.

In the beginning the neighborhoods first buildings were established

and then the two high dwelling buildings were built. Eventually the

last piece – a small delicate public library was embedded precisely in

the lowest floor of the massive building and the puzzle was complete.

Jonathan clears his throat and keeps talking; apparently, the

neighborhood had everything - young couples with kids who wanted to

settle down in a serene neighborhood and worked around the clock to

achieve it. Don’t understand me wrong- facilities such as playgrounds

were located in the neighborhood’s different zones, before they opened

the library. It seems as though in a real successful public space, we

need to do more- much more then creating a certain facility, because

that just won’t do the job…”

Jonathan finishes the interview, gulping its coffee ; and leaves the


New conclusions arouse in my mind as I conclude this long journey of

decoding the library’s success.

When we search for that “special ingredient” which turns adequate

public spaces into good ones, the specific location and design is

probably the secret. The need for glorifying the library's appearance

or its designer's reputation is simply not there.

One would point out the unique location, mostly by the readers’ flow

emitted from its immanent sacred spaces and not by

the small sign placed near its entrance.

All the virtues that reside in the library, contribute for a certain


The library addresses the idea that a human being is unique and should

be treated as such. The belief that the more specific a design idea

is, the greater its appeal is likely to be - that belief, is oozing

from the walls .

The experience of going to the library is similar to an invitation to

a mysterious sect assembly, an assembly that worships knowledge,

culture and leisure.

humble and great

dimly seen

glance that exposes

dense book shelves indicate variety of spaces

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