The Secular Monastery: a research center in the Negev Desert

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The Eilat Research and Study Center, adjacent to the spring of Ein Netafim and roughly seven miles from the city of Eilat in southern Israel, will be a meeting-place for scientists and artists from around the world interested in issues pertaining to the desert. It will be a ‘monastery of the mind’. Semi-autonomous and distanced from an urban setting, this will be a place for intellectual refuge, a community of people with common goals, interests, and aspirations.

The spring of Ein Netafim is situated at the beginning of a small canyon that descends to the shores of the Red Sea. The Center will be situated on the steep northern slope of this canyon, overlooking the wash. While always populated, the desert in these regions has rendered human habitation difficult. With the advent of new technology many adversities can be overcome, yet the challenge remains to create a built environment that can accommodate its residents while respecting the splendor and fierceness of its surroundings.

The proposed architectural solution to this challenge is possible thanks to the predominant use of retaining walls that allow the creation of public and private spaces. The Center takes its form from the slope on which it resides, and continues a well-established tradition of monastic building in this area. Construction has been limited to a small number of components which accommodate themselves to the different requirements and scales throughout the project. And throughout the Center, care has been given to creating a variety of spaces that will answer different needs and encourage the interaction of its participants, all the while retaining architectural coherence and the sense of a unified whole.