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May 3, 2011

The other week I attended a gathering at REBAR in San Francisco, in honor of Israeli architects Kerem Halbrecht and Gilly Karjevsky's cool project, 72 Hour Urban Action. Held last September and billed as "the world's first real-time architecture competition," the 72 Hour Urban Action contest brought 120 architects, artists, students, designers and craftspeople from twenty countries around the world to the city of Bat-Yam, Israel. Teams had three days and three nights to build projects that responded to the needs of their assigned sites, or "missions." The three winning projects will remain on site permanently.

Halbrecht answers questions after screening the video. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.
Halbrecht answers questions after screening the video. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.
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During pre-discussion drinks, Halbrecht chats with attendees in REBAR's studio space. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.
During pre-discussion drinks, Halbrecht chats with attendees in REBAR's studio space. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.
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Another view of the social scene at REBAR. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.
Another view of the social scene at REBAR. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.
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A view of the Dasding Hofmann's 'Lobby' project, with colorful banners stretching down from the Tower building.
A view of the Dasding Hofmann's 'Lobby' project, with colorful banners stretching down from the Tower building.
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An example of the newly installed benches outside the Tower building.
An example of the newly installed benches outside the Tower building.
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72hr workers

Halbrecht flew in to San Francisco to talk about his project and probe the possibility of holding a similar competition here. The evening started with beer and mingling, and then Halbrecht screened the twelve-minute film about the competition, as seen below.

72 HOUR URBAN ACTION | EPISODE 01 from 72 Hour Urban Action on Vimeo.

After the movie, Halbrecht sat down to discuss the project in more detail. Apparently when the competition was announced, he and Karjevsky got 540 applications from 40 countries, and narrowed it down to ten teams of twelve people each. Participants paid for their own flights. Each team got a $2,500 credit at a local hardware store. They slept in empty school classrooms (the event was held over Sukkot, a national holiday), on cots borrowed from the army. Some brought tools in their suitcases.

Halbrecht answers questions after screening the video. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.
Halbrecht answers questions after screening the video. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.

"The missions were vague and open to interpretation, and purposely so," said Halbrecht. "We located different potentials that were unrealized, and spaces that were unused, and gave designers a stage to test their ideas. Whoever is an architect or designer knows, you talk and talk and talk until your deadline, and then you come up with an idea and do it. This competition was no different, except you actually build something. It's like working in SketchUp—you push and pull your ideas—but in reality."

During pre-discussion drinks, Halbrecht chats with attendees in REBAR's studio space. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.
During pre-discussion drinks, Halbrecht chats with attendees in REBAR's studio space. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.

Their goal? "To create a perception change in people." Also to see what happens when architects and designers are forced to work fast and loose. "As architects we're very responsible all the time, and for good reasons—someone could die, or sue us." The competition, therefore, was an opportunity for architects "to be irresponsible for a bit... and it brought some interesting things."

Another view of the social scene at REBAR. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.
Another view of the social scene at REBAR. Photo by Søren Schaumburg.

The winning projects—two first-place prize winners and one honorable mention—all successfully answered the needs of their local sites and communities in creative ways. I may be biased because my friend Rusty Lamer was on the team, but the 'Dasding Hofmann' team—who were also first-place winners—developed a particularly interesting project. Their mission was to provide high-quality and inviting public spaces for a tower apartment building that housed elderly immigrants. Their solution was to build additional bench seating and unfurl brightly colored banners from the building, which provided shade, served as a beacon, and lent the drab building some personality.

A view of the Dasding Hofmann's 'Lobby' project, with colorful banners stretching down from the Tower building.
A view of the Dasding Hofmann's 'Lobby' project, with colorful banners stretching down from the Tower building.
An example of the newly installed benches outside the Tower building.
An example of the newly installed benches outside the Tower building.

When Halbrecht launched the project, he "took into account that this could be the largest failure of my life." After all, the mayor had rallied on his behalf, and dozens of people were flying into Israel on their own dime. Fortunately it was largely a success—and Halbrecht is looking to hold 72 Hour Urban Action events in other cities around the world. "It can grow into things that we can't imagine now," he said. Want to see it happen in the Bay Area? Reach out to Halbrecht here.

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