Latest Architects of Israel's Museum of Tolerance Threaten to Follow Frank Gehry Out the Door

Latest Architects of Israel's Museum of Tolerance Threaten to Follow Frank Gehry Out the Door
Chyutin Architects' proposed design for the controversial Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem
(Photo courtesy of
The planned Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem continues to hit one roadblock after another. When Frank Gehry pulled out as architect in early 2010, the L.A.-based Wiesenthal Center cited funding cuts, due to the financial crisis, that required a new, scaled-back design, reducing the building's price tag from $250 million to $100 million. The project has also faced significant opposition from Arab activists, who are furious that it's being built — ironically for a museum of tolerance — atop a medieval Muslim cemetery. They lost their challenge to the site's legality in a 2008 case that made it to Israel's Supreme Court, and last July the interior ministry fast-tracked the project. But now, in a new twist, the firm that replaced Frank Gehry, Chyutin Architects, is threatening to quit.

A municipal official told Haaretz that Israeli architects Bracha and Michael Chyutin may resign over a bad working relationship with the Wiesenthal Center. "The Center drove the architects crazy," according to the unnamed official. "It asked for daily briefings and nagged them to death." Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that the Wiesenthal Center withheld a scheduled payment to the firm, citing its failure to meet contractual obligations on the project. It comes down to "a stupid contractual dispute," Wiesenthal Center spokesperson Lior Chorev told the paper. "Our financial guys have told them that once they fulfill the contract, we will pay them the money."

The project's construction management company, Tafnit Wind, dropped out a month ago under circumstances that remain unclear, with Haaretz reporting that Tafnit Wind quit and Chorev saying that it was dismissed. Construction on the museum is supposed to begin in less than a month. In an email to the Times, the Wiesenthal Center maintained that "construction is going forward as scheduled and the financial dispute will have no impact whatsoever on the project."

Yet building the museum in its current location may not be so simple. Middle Eastern historian and Arab activist Rashid Khalidi told ARTINFO France that he suspects the controversial building site continues to play a role in the museum's troubles. "Gehry felt that he'd been deceived" by the Center, according to Khalidi, who believes that the Muslim cemetery "was one of the issues" that led the renowned architect to withdraw from the project. It may have discouraged his successor as well, Khalidi surmised. Chyutin Architects was not immediately available for comment.

While the museum's opponents seem to have exhausted available legal avenues in Israel, they are still seeking to prevail in the court of international opinion. "We have every hope that this desecration will be stopped," Khalidi said. A petition against the project signed by many prominent archaeologists will be sent to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the next two weeks, and opponents are also waiting for UNESCO and the special rapporteur for human rights at the U.N. to take a position on the issue.