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New designs revealed for Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem

September 21, 2010 |  3:20 pm

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Years in the works, a planned Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem took a significant step forward this week when the Simon Wiesenthal Center unveiled new architectural designs for the structure, saying that the museum is likely to be completed in four years.

The new design, which was created by the Israeli firm Chyutin Architects, calls for a six-story structure -- three stories below ground and three above -- with approximately 150,000 to 160,000 square feet of space. By comparison, the Center's main facilities in Los Angeles total about 110,000 square feet of space.

The complex is expected to feature exhibition space, a theater, an educational center as well as an outdoor sunken area in front of the building with a garden and amphitheater.

With an estimated price tag of $100 million, the new museum is significantly less expensive than the one designed by Frank Gehry, which would have cost at least $250 million, according to the Center.

Earlier this year, Gehry and the Center decided to part ways on the project in part because the Center's board of trustees wished to downsize the museum in response to the slumping economy.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the  Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, said that the organization held a competition between three Israeli architecture firms, and that the board unanimously chose the design put forth by Chyutin.

So far, the Center has raised about 50% of the budget needed to complete the new museum. "We are confident that we will raise the money once the construction begins," said Hier on the phone from Jerusalem. 

The planned museum has been a source of controversy in recent years because it is being built on what was once a part of a Muslim cemetery. Arab leaders in Israel sued to halt the museum after bones were unearthed from the site, with some calling the project a form of religious and ethnic oppression.

In late 2008, Israel's Supreme Court gave the OK for the project to continue but required that museum builders consult with Israel's Antiquities Authority on how to rebury any remains unearthed during construction and on creating a barrier between graves and the building's foundation.

Hier said Tuesday that the site has been verified as cleared of graves and that recovered bones have been re-interred elsewhere.

The front of the new museum will face a commercial area while the back faces Independence Park in Jerusalem. The Center said the back features glass walls from top to bottom, seen below, to create a warmer and more inviting atmosphere.

Motj2

-- David Ng

Photos: Designs for the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. Credit: Chyutin Architects / Simon Wiesenthal Center

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