In Statu Quo: The Israeli Pavilion at the 16th Architecture Biennale

by Danielle Gorodenzik | 10.07.18



Conrad S. Schick, Model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and surroundings, Jerusalem, 1862. Photo by Adi Gilad

The Israeli Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale analyzes what is often overlooked – holy spaces and the role of negotiations. The team of four, Ifat Finkelman, Deborah Pinto Fdeda, Oren Sagiv, and Tania Coen-Uzzielli, study five spaces researching architecture that goes beyond style, material, and appearance.

In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation looks at regulations used as a mechanism to maintain contested spaces and the role of architecture in relation to complex structures. The “Status Quo” system is a set of agreements – never formally written – initiated in the 19th century by the Ottoman Empire after the Crimean war. It states an understanding between religious communities in shared religious sites: no territory can be rearranged without consent from all communities creating peculiar choreography and scenography, this is the heart of In Statu Quo.

The exhibition does not propose architectural solutions for the conflicts among these spaces but analyzes their phenomenon. In their Tel Avivian studio architect Ifat Finkelman states, “We are looking at architecture in a different manner, as an organizational system to manage these places in their daily routine.”

At the entrance of the Israeli Pavilion, surprisingly, is the 1862 model of Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. “The model is an artifact that shows the strength of architecture as a political tool, architecture is a medium that can state governance,” says Finkelman. Commissioned by the Ottoman Empire, this model illustrates the complex state of affairs between Christian denominations within the Holy Sepulchre, each is sector represented by a color. The common spaces, coded in white, is shared and divided by a strict schedule. The team created a data engine projecting the schedule of the church which functions like “clockwork”.


Demolition of the Mughrabi Quarter near the Western Wall, June 1967. Photo by David Rubinger. Courtesy David Rubinger, Yedioth Achronoth

Before 1967, the Western Wall Plaza was known as the Mughrabi Quarter, a Muslim neighborhood since the 12th century. Immediately after the Six Day War, the quarter was demolished without any governmental decision. The demolition was created to give access to the holy site for thousands of Jews. Finkelman says, “It was a small courtyard in a dense tissue of Mughrabi Quarter and then it became a vast plaza, almost a tabula-rasa open for interpretations – political interpretations. And the big debate was: What is this plaza about? Is it a national civil place? Or is it a holy place? . . .  The exhibition shows 10 design proposals from 1967 till today of local and international architects, which represent the struggle over the character of the Western Wall as a holy site and a national symbol. None of the proposals were implemented due to the inability to come to an actual decision and an overall solution for the place.”

In Statu Quo looks at the delicate Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron/Al-Khalil. Finkelman explains, “The disputed site, which is usually separated strictly and hermetically between the Jews and the Muslims, manage to coexist through special temporal events called ‘exceptions’ in which each side is getting a full access to the place for 24 hours only (on special holidays, 10 days a year). This ‘change of hands’ happens within few hours only through artifacts. We call it object politics- as the simple decorative objects are giving identity to the place, just like elements of stage set. Hence we call it Scenograpy.”

Nira Pereg, ABRAHAM ABRAHAM SARAH SARAH, 2012. Video still. Courtesy of the Artist

Temporality is exemplified in the Mughrabi Ascent, a non-Muslim entrance to the Temple Mount. The bridge is considered a temporary structure as it is still in dispute over who is responsible for the final construction and maintenance. The bridge is illustrated in the animation film Ascent by David Polonsky and Roiy Nitzan.

Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem proves how a religious site can be so different than what it is iconically known for. As a symbol, Rachel’s Tomb is remembered romantically as a beautiful tomb in an open field with an olive tree overhanging. Today, the tomb is surrounded by many cement walls and is an exclusive space that is difficult to get to.

All of these holy spaces are very dynamic and flexible, with a delicate equilibrium between the groups that share these spaces and it is reacting constantly to the conflict that is is embedded with them as well as current events that shape them. In Statu Quo will be up at the Israeli Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale until November 26, 2018.

Photos by Sarale Gur Lavy

The Mughrabi Ascent, 2018. Illustration by David Polonsky

The Mughrabi Ascent, Photo by Oren Sagiv

Tomb of Rachel, Jerusalem Holy Land 1890-1900. Courtesy Library of Congress

On the way to Rachels Tomb, Photo by Gili Merin


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