In the heart of Jerusalem stands an enchanting observatory tower in the shape of a cactus and made of wood. Located in the centre of the new part of the city, Ester Tower stands as a “magnificent artistic artefact” that pays tribute to the longstanding friendship between Israel and the Czech Republic.
Architect Martin Rajniš of Czech architecture firm Huť Architektury Martin Rajniš (HAMR) was engaged by Lukáš Přibyl, the head of the Czech Centre in Tel Aviv, and Francoise Cafri from the Jerusalem Municipality to design and build a tower in Jerusalem to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia, as well as the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.
The tower would be located in the extensive gardens of the Hansen House, a historical building that served as a hospital for patients with leprosy in the 19th century, and currently houses a prominent art centre.
Rajniš explained his reasons for choosing the Sabra cactus as design inspiration for the Ester Tower.
“When a cactus blooms with a beautiful garland of flowers, in its resilient and prickly nature, it is a movingly beautiful plant. And I found it symbolic. This combination of tenderness and determination was, as I noticed, similar to the character of people I had encountered in Israel. And furthermore – what do we call Israelis born in this spectacular yet somewhat hostile land, who manage to turn deserts into blossoming gardens? Sabra.
“So, we found ourselves constructing a sabra in order to celebrate people who possess strength, courage and toughness, yet also have much love for and devotion to their country,” he said.
A platform at the top of the tower allows visitors to enjoy the splendorous views while being sheltered from harsh sunlight or inclement weather.
Wood was the material of choice for the architects at HAMR as they routinely worked with it. However, in the local context a wooden structure is a true rarity, says Rajniš.
All individual components were fabricated in the Czech Republic, shipped to Jerusalem in two large containers, and assembled in the Hansen gardens according to the design.
“Just like any other sabra, the tower can endure a lot. This sabra will be the only tower of its kind, as each of our projects is strictly unique – we never repeat our designs. We paid a lot of attention to adjusting the parameters of the tower to the fairy-tale-ish setting of the Hansen House and its gardens – so that it wouldn’t try to outshine the historical building, but rather be a humble companion to the old olive trees and other plants in the garden, as well as houses in the immediate vicinity of the Hansen compound,” Rajniš said.
The Czech architect also explained why the timber tower was named ‘Ester’.
“We always give our towers female names, and we name them in alphabetical order. There is Anežka on the top of the Sněžka mountain, Bára close to the city Chrudim, Cecilka in Brno, Doubravka is under construction in Prague right now, so the letter coming up was E. And Ester is a very nice Jewish name we like a lot. So simple!”
Photography: Ivan Němec