More than two years ago, while discussing Baha’i buildings inside Talisman9 (the oldest online Baha’i discussion group), one person wrote:
Marble construction has the effect of minimising running costs at the price of a higher capital investment. Perhaps
there are achitects among us who can give us an amortisation estimate:considering that the World Centre is intended to serve the Cause for roughly one thousand years, longevity of construction (and design) is an important consideration.
To which I replied:
Marble is durable – under the right conditions. Those conditions do not exist in Haifa. This is a port city which has a lot of industrial pollution. As well, it houses an oil refinery right at the foot of the mountain which spews strong and corrosive chemicals. Carrarra marble is among the finest, most expensive marbles there is. For Pete’s sake! Michaelangelo’s David is carved from it. I am no expert but to use it and other expensive forms of marble in such a hostile condition, not only leaves the project managers and architects open to charges of incompetence; it is simply criminal to flush so much money down the drain.
As you probably know, the Archives building is the oldest structure on the Arc. Designed by Mason Remey, it was started in late 1954 and finished in 1957 (and it ‘only’ cost $250,000 then – the equivalent of $2 Million now). So it has been standing for less than 50 years. The outside columns are built from Chiampo marble, by the way. Sadly, I have seen the erosion taking place with my own eyes. The marble is flaking in large chunks (about double the size of your thumbnail).
We’re talking about less than 50 years here! I’ve seen ugly red-brick apartment buildings that have withstood time with more grace.
I’m just a lay person, but a Baha’i who is an expert (PhD chemistry) told me that in their estimate, in less than 30 odd years all the buildings now put up will have to undergo major renovation or be completely rebuilt (facades). This is excluding the Archives building which will probably undergo such treatment much, much sooner.
The good news is that there may be a reprieve coming soon. There are some efforts being made (not allowed to call it lobbying!) to get the refinery to relocate. This is the classical NIMBY principle – not in my back yard. Israel is a tiny country and they don’t have a lot of places to tuck in oil refineries. Chances are slim, but if they do relocate it, it may halt the damage to the buildings. If they don’t, well…I’d rather not imagine our children having to raise $500 Million to rebuild the Arc.
In any condition, the best thing we can look forward to is a halt to the damage. Removing the refinery and other industrial complexes at the foot of the mountain will not reverse the damage.
Just a little over two years after, here is a current picture worth nine thousand words:
Source of Picture: Sholeh who is currently working in Haifa
If you’re not familiar with the Baha’i World Center, the picture shows the Center for the Study of the Text to the left and to the right in the distance is the Archives building wrapped in scaffolding as it undergoes restoration work. Click for the full size picture.
Here is what the Israeli government says about the air quality around Haifa:
In Israel, the most problematic air pollutant, as shown by air quality monitoring carried out since 1970, is sulphur dioxide (SO2). Relatively high concentrations of SO2 emitted for the most part by power plants and oil refineries are routinely monitored in the Ashdod area and the Haifa Bay. One of the reasons for this is the high sulphur content of the heavy fuel oil in use in Israel. The Haifa Bay, with the most intense industrial activity in the country, coupled with the difficult atmospheric dispersion conditions caused by the influence of the Mediterranean Sea and the complex topography of Mount Carmel, is probably the most polluted area in the country, followed by Ashdod as a close second.
Of course this will only serve to reopen the debate among Baha’is about the massive scale and decadence of the building projects on Mount Carmel. While local and national communities find themselves lacking the most basic needs for centers, the funds they raise are funneled to Haifa to build marble buildings which are corroded in record time. And which will have to be rebuilt, probably in our lifetime.
Why not kick start the fund raising efforts of the “Arc Project II: Fund Harder”? After all, when you start talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, pretty soon you’re talking real money.
And I’m sure the hungry, poor, downtrodden, and orphans.. you know, the unwashed masses who Abdu’l-Baha just happened to care for personally in His lifetime, don’t mind waiting while we build, rebuild, and restore and then renovate, the Baha’i World Center. They, more than anyone else, know a thing or two about priorities.
Somebody call the Italian quarries stat! In a few decades we’re going to need more of that luscious marble.