The exhibition “Eclectic–Modern,” which features selected works from the collection of the architect Sam Barkai, marks the completion of the collection’s cataloguing process. These works delineate the professional development of an architect who began his career working in the eclectic style, and ended it as a planner of modern buildings.
Sam (Samuel) Barkai (Berkowitz) was born in 1898 in Novorossiysk, Russia, and immigrated to Palestine in 1920 as a Zionist. Barkai took on various jobs throughout the country, and eventually began working in the field of construction. He was employed as an expert in the production of concrete by the Solel Boneh Company, as a draftsman in the office of the architect Fritz Kornberg in Jerusalem, and at the Tel Aviv municipality, where he worked under the supervision of the City Architect, Dov Hershkowitz. His most significant achievement during this period was supervising the construction of Hayim Nahman Bialik’s residence in Tel Aviv, which had been planned by Joseph Minor. Barkai’s experience in the field of construction, which he acquired during this period, led to his employment as a construction overseer for the Tel Aviv municipality.
Already at this early stage, prior to acquiring a formal education as an architect, Barkai began planning villas and private houses. In 1926, he even planned several eclectic buildings in collaboration with Zeev Rechter. The eclectic style that dominated the country at the time combined Western building conceptions with Arab vernacular influences. As part of their collaboration, Barkai and Rechter planned several houses for the Dajani family, and additional buildings in the developing city of Tel Aviv.
At the end of 1926, following the outbreak of an economic crisis in the country, Barkai decided to pursue the study of architecture in Europe. He traveled with Rechter to Rome and from there continued to Venice, where he enrolled at the Scuola Superiore di Architettura. The Neo-Classical drawings he produced that year entertain a dialogue with the eclectic architecture created at the time in Palestine. Finding the curriculum at the school to be too conservative in comparison to the progressive art movements that were sweeping across Europe at the time, Barkai left the city prior to completing his first year of studies there. In October 1927, following a short trip back to Palestine, Barkai arrived in Paris, where he encountered the modernist, Purist architecture of Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfant. He enrolled at the École national supérieure des arts décoratifs, and after completing six years of study – during which he received several certificates of excellence – he spent about two months working in Le Corbusier’s studio.
During his studies in Paris and his work with Le Corbusier, Barkai consolidated an understanding of modernist architecture, which he brought back with him to Tel Aviv in 1933. In 1934–1939, Barkai planned several significant buildings that are imbued with the spirit of Purist architecture. Prominent among them are a number of buildings in Tel Aviv: Aginsky House on Engel Street (1934–35), Halperin House on Gordon Street (1935), Villa Katz on Megido Street (1935), Haim Lurie House on Shlomo Hamelech Street (1936), and Riebenfeld House on Yermiyahu Street (1939). In 1935–1937, Barkai created one of his iconic projects: Villa Lubin in Tel Binyamin, Ramat Gan, which he planned for the painter Arieh (Leo) Lubin.
From the 1940s until his death in 1975, parallel to his public activity for the promotion of modern architecture (as a member of a number of associations and as the editor and author of texts for leading Israeli and French periodicals), Barkai planned a large number of private and public buildings. Two of them are included in exhibition: Sharon Cinema in Netanya (1949–1951), and the painter Nahum Gutman’s studio on Ahad Ha’am Street in Tel Aviv (1951).