A Different Perspective

by Maurice Levitch, AIA

Most of what we know and see is formed by our immediate environment. When we venture beyond it we may find different realities reshaping the way we think about design, about building, and about life.

While I have traveled to other states and countries in the past, it had been awhile since I had been able to spend a few weeks away from my reality: this time in Israel and Greece with my family this summer.

I was able to access the internet at various hot spots and found some computer time at cafes along the way. As work was busy prior to my leaving and while I was away, this was a blessing and a curse. Mostly a blessing: sending work e-mail from an outdoor bar high above the Mediterranean on the island of Santorini while sipping a Mythos beer isn’t all that bad, so I could relax and enjoy the trip knowing things could continue without my being on location.

The 10-hour time difference had an interesting effect on me. I could enjoy the days knowing that all were asleep at home and that I had all day to send an email that would arrive by their morning. Being able to search the internet wirelessly for a special door closer and send PDFs to the office while overlooking the Dead Sea was also quite an experience.

More important than benefiting from recent technological advances was being in places so full of history. Seeing the remains of monumental structures built with far few resources than we have today is mindblowing. The fortified city for 1,000 on top of Masada – complete with storage buildings for food, water system and community swimming pool – high above the Negev is the epitome of people creating from adversity just what they need.

The sense of history is evident in architecture and attitudes. This may be a result of being on vacation but away from here it seems people are more themselves, not trying to behave a certain way. Okay, they could seem rude or pushy at times, but I think they are just comfortable expressing themselves.

Having already been in a crowd of over 70,000 at a Cal football game after being back for a week, there was a sense of order and politeness that seems familiar here. I have a feeling if this were a real “football” crowd in another country (or maybe a home Raiders game) things would have been a bit more crazy.


In Greece and Israel I noticed a few things:

  • An explosion of split system air conditioners, like a virus, on the face of most buildings (One building in Israel has a safety screen just above street level to catch the occasional falling unit.)
  • While many buildings are being constructed (North of Tel Aviv I saw at least 20 tower cranes without turning my head), most of the older ones are in great need of maintenance.
  • We are better with litter and recycling (with the exception of the unmanned recycling and payback machine complete with music right in the middle of Syndagma Square in Athens.)
  • Mosaic floors were really popular and are sometimes the only part of a building remaining after a few centuries.
  • There are “Zara” clothing stores everywhere, sometimes around the corner from each other (I even learned when we returned that there is one in San Francisco.)
  • Unlike our marking edges and ramps for the blind, entire lengths of sidewalk have linear dimensional markings to help the visually impaired find their way between ramps.
  • Dual flush toilets are everywhere.
  • Solar thermal water heating systems are the norm in Israel’s homes.
  • Individual sheet toilet paper dispensers will soon be here.

Most importantly, I learned that when a waiter on the island of Rhodes generously brings you bread, salad and tsatsiki without being asked, it means that your bill can magically become 60 euros (about 82 dollars) higher without your knowing it!

This article was originally published in the October 2007 issue of Builder/Architect magazine.