In a country where terrorist suicide bombings are all too common — five occurring over the past two and half years in the port city of Haifa alone — a local Israeli firm, Uzi Gordon Architects and Urban Planners, has crafted the city's new bus terminal to be both highly secure and attractive.
Haifa, Israel's third largest city and its main port, wraps around picturesque Mt. Carmel along the shores of the Mediterranean. The new Merkazit Hof HaCarmel station brings a placid seaside theme to its visitors in an open, airport-like environment.
But that serene effect was challenged in the course of the design process by the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in the fall of 2000, which saw terrorist attacks and bombings, particularly on buses, reach an unprecedented level in Israel.
"We had already designed the bus terminal when the security authorities came in with this new requirement to put in a concrete wall in front of the transparent curtain wall," says Dorit Dar, an interior designer with the firm. "We didn't want it to look like it was slapped on at the end."
The team responded to the charge by designing a 1.8-meter-high concrete wall protected with aesthetic steel plates. Light poles were installed along its length so as to minimize the impact of a "cold-looking concrete wall," says Lucian Faina, the project's lead architect.
Uzi Gordon Architects is a well-known Haifa firm and had designed the nearby Hof HaCarmel train station, which was completed five years ago. They were selected by Egged, the largest privately owned bus company in Israel, to design two new bus stations as part of a long-term plan to split the city's former central bus station into two terminals serving the northern and southern parts of the city.
"The old bus station used to be in the center of the city, but now that business centers have evolved in the north and the south, the mayor of Haifa decided to change the city's transportation plan," according to Ram Asher, Egged's chief engineer.
The northern station, Lev HaMifraz, is still in the design phase. Its southern counterpart, Merkazit Hof HaCarmel, began operating last fall. The 10,000-square-meter station houses not only inter- and intracity bus lines but also 3,500 square meters of rentable space.
The first of two new bus stations in Haifa, Israel, the Hof HaCarmel terminal breaks the mold of a typical bus station, incorporating a seaside motif that sensitively integrates stringent security measures. “It’s the first time in Israel that we built something different from a typical bus station,” says Ram Asher, chief engineer with Egged, developer of the facility and the largest privately owned bus company in Israel. The terminal is connected by tunnel to the city’s nearby train station.
However, the process of deciding exactly what Egged wanted for the project was not always smooth. "Egged was initially hesitant trying to decide when to build, if to build, and by what standard to build," recalls Uzi Gordon, the firm's owner.
When the ball finally got rolling in the late 1990s, the general contractor went bankrupt shortly into the construction phase, which set things back another half a year.
In the end, the decision to acquire the expensive seaside real estate on which Hof HaCarmel sits became part of a larger development plan to eventually build a 1,200-square-meter restaurant and 150-room hotel on top of the bus station, which is currently one level in height.
"They decided that they wanted the station to be a good-looking building and a landmark with its own identity," says Faina. Consequently, an impressive architectural design became part of the plan.
In order to promote the seaside theme in the building's interior, the architects used aluminum to create a wave-shaped ceiling running the length of the facility's southern wall, where the intercity bus terminals are located. Hundreds of small, recessed light fixtures were installed in the ceiling wave to resemble stars.
The wave and light fixtures cost a little more than Egged had planned to spend on this part of the ceiling, but the architects were able to convince the owner that the overall effect was worth the price.
Adding to the seaside motif, a unique floor tile, made of recomposed natural marble and siliceous sand mixed with polyester resin, is used throughout the facility. Tiny pieces of glass embedded within the tile, which was imported from Turkey, resemble the sparkle of sand shining in the sun. The pale yellow sandlike color forms part of the facility's palette, along with silver and dark red.
With the Mediterranean Sea located just meters away, Hof HaCarmel’s unique wave-shaped ceiling plays off a seaside theme.
Because Haifa's new transportation scheme requires incoming visitors to transfer at the Hof HaCarmel southern station before continuing their journeys in the city, the quality of the design was expected to help make up for this inconvenience, explains Asher. "We had to provide a nice, comfortable experience, stores and food for the 15 to 20 minutes that travelers are going to have to wait there," he says.
Asher, who has supervised the building of 20 bus stations throughout his career with Egged, says, "It's the first time in Israel that we built something different from a typical bus station."
Aesthetically, the architects would have preferred to install full-length panes of glass along the terminal's north and south walls, but security concerns forced them to install smaller 1.3x2.5-meter pieces of double-glazed glass inside of a steel frame with aluminum cladding. The exterior pane is a single layer of tempered glass, while the interior pane is made up of two layers of glass with a polycarbonate adhesive sandwiched in between. The bottom pane has dotted ceramic print to provide extra shading from the sun's glare reflecting off the ground, which saves on air conditioning.
The southern wall, which is the one most exposed to the elements, was designed in a zigzag pattern to protect against the stormy, windy weather common during the winter in Haifa.
On the north side, the glass walls run straight along the building's perimeter and are slanted outward to emphasize the unusual-looking underside shading canopy protruding out from the wall. The same underside canopy, manufactured in Germany, was designed into the south wall to add visual interest.
For the facility's structural foundation, the team used reinforced concrete, standard in Israel, to better withstand blasts and fire.
Surrounding the 47,000-square-meter plot of land on which the terminal stands are 2.5-meter-high steel fences. Buses and cars must enter one at a time, and steel cylinders mechanically rise up from the ground to barricade vehicles from unauthorized entry.
Even though the area is predominately controlled by these security measures, the additional concrete wall running along the north wall was necessary as a barrier between the terminal and a public parking lot located next door. "The station is well guarded, but you don't feel like you're in a fortress," says Asher, who credits the architects for achieving this effect.
Another unique security feature of the station lot is a large parking space surrounded on three sides by four-meter-high, 30-centimeter-thick reinforced concrete walls. In the event that a bus is suspected of having a bomb on board, it can be taken to this location and inspected, well away from the terminal and its occupants.
So far, Asher reports that the new Hof HaCarmel station has been running smoothly and attracting lots of positive attention since its opening last fall.
Future plans call for the construction of a three-level parking garage at ground level, as well as the hotel and restaurant on top of the terminal.