New design for tolerance museum unveiled

(JTA) — Architectural designs for a scaled-back Museum of Tolerance in the center of Jerusalem were unveiled by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, said he expects completion of the six-story structure facing Independence Park in 3 1/2 years.

Plans for the museum, which for eight years has faced opposition from Muslim religious leaders and other critics, call for three stories below ground and three above featuring top-to-bottom glass walls.

The $100 million project, formally designated as the Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance, is to include an exhibition space, theater and education center in some 150,000 square feet of space, as well as outdoor gardens and an amphitheater. It was designed by the Israeli firm Chyutin Architects.

Due to the slumping economy, the center’s board of trustees earlier this year had drastically cut the cost and size of the project. Its original architecht, Frank Gehry, bowed out after creating the design in 2002 for a 240,000-square-foot museum costing $250 million, and featuring steel, blue and silver titanium and golden Jerusalem stone.

Site preparations for the smaller museum are nearing completion.

Muslim religious leaders complained from the start of the project that the site had served for centuries as a Muslim cemetery, and they appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court to grant an injunction against further construction. Jerusalem city officials backed Hier, and after nearly four years of deliberation, the court granted the Wiesenthal Center permission to continue construction. 

Critics have also blasted the size and design of the project, while others ridiculed the idea of an American-inspired tolerance center. Yad Vashem expressed concern about a possible competing Holocaust memorial.

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