An Impressive Story
The Israel National Museum of Science, Technology and Space, Daniel and Matilde Recanati Center, is housed in a location that has long played an important role in the history of Haifa: the Historic Technion Building, which was designed and constructed in the early 20th century and carries its own impressive story.
APRIL 11TH, 1912. Today, in a festive ceremony in the Hadar neighborhood, on a land bought from Arabs and Germans of the Templers’ community, a cornerstone is laid for the building of the new technological education institution named The Technicom.
The ceremony has implemented Mr. Paul Nathan’s vision, founder of The German Jewish Ezra Company that was named in short: “Ezra”. In his vision, Nathan saw an educational institution standing at the edge of Mt. Carmel, qualifying Jewish students in various technological fields, thus facilitating Jewish people living under Turkish Empire and enhancing the Jewish ‘Aliah”, since in many places around Europe, Jews were forbidden to major in technical studies.
The building was designed by the renowned Jewish architect from Germany, Alexander Baerwald, who immigrated to Israel for that cause. His design included both oriental and European motives and was built from sandstone quarried in Tantura and Atlit. The building was part of Baerwald’s plan of an open corridor leading directly to Haifa’s bay. He also designed buildings that would line the road, of which some were built (e.g. the Hebrew Reali School). The local construction manager on behalf of the institution, located in Berlin, was Dr. Shmariahu Levin.
In spite of the many obstacles placed by the Turkish administers, the low budget, major disagreements between the Jewish and Arab laborers and technical complications, in the spring of 1913, the construction work of the main building was about complete and the goal was to start accepting students and operating the institute within a year.
Nonetheless, the major obstacle standing in the way of accomplishing this vision was the difference of opinion concerning the formal language of teaching, an argument which was late named as “The Languages Dispute”;
Paul Nathan decided that the official teaching language will be German, consequently evoking angry responses from the Jewish community across Israel. Simultaneously, Shmariahu Levin, who was Ezra’s representative and served as the project manager, resigned from his job. These protests paused the process of fund raising and all operations were stopped. However, not long after, the Ezra Company renounced and announced that the official teaching language in the Technicom will be Hebrew.
Nonetheless, the building’s construction was not yet finished by First World War and all operations were reduced to solely building maintenance. The partially completed building was used by the German Army as a slaughterhouse and later in 1917 as a military hospital in the service of the Turkish Army and further, in 1918, moved under British Governing
Furthermore, Ezra’s financial situation worsened and Paul Nathan was forced to sell the Technicom to the Zionist Federation, without getting to actually seeing his vision come to life and serving its dedicated role. Then, Dr. Haim Weizmann, The Jewish Agency representative was recruited to the mission of raising additional funds to rehabilitate the campus and convincing the British Military to relinquish the property. It took 5 years, in which new equipment was bought, teachers were enlisted and a curriculum was established.
In 1923, Prof. Albert Einstein paid a visit to the complex and he and his wife planted palm trees in front of the main building. He was then offered and accepted the role of president of the Technion Committee (The Technion German Friends Association).
The name Technion was suggested by the Jewish poet Haim Nahman Bialik, based on the Hebrew word “Tochen”, meaning contents.
In 1925, 13 years after the building’s cornerstone, with six teachers, 16 students in two divisions, Architecture and Civil Engineering, accommodated in a campus of 7 buildings, of which only one was actively functioning, the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology became the home of Israel’s first institute of higher education.
Until 1953, all the Technion Faculties were located there. By 1965, most of them have moved to the Technion’s new campus in Haifa’s Nave Shaanan. The Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning remained in the historic Technion building until 1985.
Over the years, the building has undergone many changes. After becoming home to the Israel National Museum of Science in 1986, it was restored and brought back to its former glory. The restoration adhered to Baerwald’s original design. Today it is one of the most impressive buildings from that period. The Museum renovation project won recognition from the National Council for the Preservation of Buildings and Historic Sites in Israel.