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Aerial view of Tel Aviv bus station.

The White Elephant of Tel Aviv – 99% Invisible:

At 2.5 million square feet, the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station was the product of a grand vision to build an indoor micro-metropolis. Its expansive plans featured a shopping mall with thousands of stores, services and entertainment offerings. The structure even came to house a (now deserted) subterranean theater, originally meant to entertain people waiting for their bus.

Even the design didn’t make sense – the largest bus station in the world in a medium-sized city – just 412,000 people even today, about a populous as Minneapolis. But it was just after Israel’s triumph in the 1967 war, and the country was thinking big.

This vision gave way to a darker reality, resulting in what reporter Yochai Maital describes as “a derelict eight-story behemoth and modern day Tower of Babel, which mirrors much of modern Israeli history, with its grand vision and messy implementation.”

The layout is intentionally confusing, inspired by Jerusalem’s Old City. “The architect wanted the building to look and feel like a system of small alleyways, disorienting but cozy and familiar.” Even people who work there sometimes get lost. Much of the building has been abandoned, built to accommodate an order of magnitude more passengers than it actually gets.

Its architects envisioned the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station as a climate-controlled “city under a roof” and, in a way, that is what it has become: it has a lot of things that work, but it also contains those sad, scary and derelict places found in any urban environment.

 

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