For most of us, the only reason to stop by one of Israel’s suburbs when visiting her bigger cities is to see family or friends. But Holon, already known back in the Bible as a ‘burb (see Joshua 21:15), has become one with which to be reckoned, home to the new, Design Museum, a project of renowned architect Ron Arad and recently awarded the Conde Nast Traveler Innovation and Design Award. This city of sand dunes has come a ways from its first incarnation as an industrial base just six kilometers from Tel Aviv.
Founded in 1935, Holon was built on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, a cooperative of neighborhoods that were home to the blue-collar workers employed at the nearby industrial enterprises, including the Lodzia Textile Factory. The city doubled in size following the 1948 War of Independence, when Holon annexed Tel A-Rish, a suburb of Jaffa, that fell during the war. Its population also increased, with an influx of Jewish immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries who arrived in the 1950s, helping build up what would become the country’s second largest industrial zone, after Haifa. The city, however, remained gritty, gray and mistakenly entered when trying to leave Tel Aviv from the south and taking the wrong road out of town.
So it remained, a second-tier Israeli city known for its proximity to Tel Aviv, but not much else, until Tel Aviv’s recent real estate and business boom created a reason for young families and professionals to look elsewhere for affordable living space, and Holon, reasoned longtime mayor, Moti Sasson, could be just the answer.
Sasson, who was born and bred in Holon, has been working hard for the last 17 years, along with his municipal staff, to focus on children’s needs and woo families back to his city. Beginning with Holon’s now well-known Purim parade, Adloyada, they continued with a host of cultural projects, specifically, museums. The results speak for themselves. The city looks good with a host of green spaces, modern apartment buildings and a stretch of new museums celebrating everything from caricature and comics to Israeli history, digital art and at the Children’s Museum, a unique exploration of the senses for visitors of all ages. The latest addition, the internationally acclaimed Design Museum, is a sinuous, colorful ribbon of steel that has the look of a large and playful slinky seemingly placed on its side, and is a celebration of contemporary architecture as well as a strong departure from much of what’s seen locally in building design.
Spending time at the Design Museum sets the tone for a visit to Holon, with design and art seamlessly melded into an integrated whole. The museum is smartly designed for the visitor, with two main exhibition halls, in addition to a design library and lab that can be used as part of the museum’s educational programs for families and groups as well as working artists and designers. Exhibits are geared towards having the visitor consider how design is an essential element of our lives, from the objects we look at to the products we use in a given day.
Finish off a visit to Holon with a stop at the neighboring Mediatheque library, home to a library, theater and cinema, in addition to the Israeli Design Center and iMatter, a materials library for design students. With its unusual amounts of planned, green spaces in the newer parts of town, the signs offering easy directions to interesting museums around town and at least one Aroma coffee bar — food isn’t Holon’s speciality just yet — there’s more to Holon than its sand dunes. There’s still urban renewal to be done here, and the industrial zone has been sadly neglected, while the real estate market has rebounded and, natch, created heavier traffic to Tel Aviv every morning. But hey, isn’t that the sign of success?