Dec. 02, 2012

Architect Matti Kones is the newest recipient of BGU’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research’s Cook Prize for Desert Architecture. Kones was awarded the prize by Prof. Isaac Meir, Associate Professor in the Department of Desert Architecture and Town Planning at the Blaustein Institutes (BIDR), during the opening session of BGU’s recent Drylands, Deserts and Desertification (DDD) conference. 

“The Cook Prize for Desert Architecture is named after the late Prof. Jeffrey Cook, who was a central figure in the field of passive and low-energy architecture and who, throughout his years in Arizona, had a special commitment to appropriate architectural design in the desert,” said Meir, when presenting the award and introducing Kones. 

“Today, together with the Cook Foundation, which was established in Prof. Cook’s name, we are awarding the third Jeffrey Cook Prize in Desert Architecture. This award is for lifetime contribution to a sustainable green environment, and I am very pleased to be able to personally present it to someone whose lifetime has been devoted to promoting sustainability – Architect Matti Kones,” he said. 

Kones is well-known for his focus on the environment when designing, planning and building structures in the desert. “For over a third of a century, he has been a ‘missionary’ of ecological, environmentally-responsive, energy-conserving, bio-climatic planning and design, primarily in the deserts and drylands of Israel,” said Meir. “He has been one of the pioneers of the field in this country, and has tried to ‘spread the word’ through architectural design, as well as through involvement in professional and voluntary public institutions and organizations.”  

Among these are the Institutes of Architects and Engineers in Israel and Greece; the International Solar Energy Society; the Standards Institute of Israel; the Energy and Architecture Working Group of the International Union of Architects; the Association for Sustainable Development for the Negev; the International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment; and the Israel Green Building Council. 

Kones, an architect and eco-planner, was born in Greece. He holds a Diploma of Architecture from the Athens Polytechnic (Greece, 1971) and worked in various architectural firms, among them the well-known Doxiadis Associates. He immigrated to Israel in 1974, and received an MSc degree from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology – in Urban and Regional Planning with an ecological focus (Haifa, Israel, 1979). He has lived and worked in the Negev, Israel’s desert, combining private practice (own firm) and academic practice (teaching and research) since 1976. 

From 1976 to 1979, Kones worked as research architect on Desert and Solar Architecture at the BIDR in Sede Boqer, alongside architects Moshe Safdie, Baruch Givoni and Arieh Rahmimov. He also was a visiting research associate at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh (1979), where he focused on Urban Renewal and Energy Conservation. “During that period, he also lectured on ‘Ecological approaches to desert rural settlements planning in Israel’ at the University of California in Berkeley, as well as the Institute for Arid Land Studies (Tucson, Arizona), where he also met Professor Cook,” Meir said. 

Kones has a sustained record of teaching, devoting part of his time to professional education, and has taught over the years at various institutions in Israel including the Department of Architecture at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design Jerusalem, where he built one of the first syllabi in Israel on passive and bio-climatic design; the Architecture Department of the Shamoon College of Engineering; the Architecture Department of the Sapir Academic College; and the Building Center of Israel. 

“Architect Kones has designed numerous projects, ranging from private houses and residential complexes through educational and public buildings all the way to master and detailed plans. His projects grow from a deep analysis and understanding of the site and its constraints,” he said. “They incorporate passive strategies such as solar and wind rights, passive heating and cooling. He has also devoted a significant part of his professional work to promoting and realizing the retrofitting of existing buildings.” 

The flagship of his work is the Technological College and High School for Israel’s Air Force in Be’er Sheva, completed in 2007. This is one of the largest and more complex bio-climatic projects realized in Israel. Being located in the capital of the Negev desert, it serves as a demonstration of principles and practices of bio-climatic desert architecture, used and visited by thousands of staff and students, as well as the public. 

“It is thus an honor and a privilege to present this third Jeffrey Cook Prize in Desert Architecture to Architect Matti Kones for his lifetime contribution to a sustainable green environment,” said Meir. 

Kones responded by thanking the BIDR and BGU for the recognition given to him through this award. He spoke about how he combined teaching and private practice in order to get the message out about the importance of an ecological approach to desert architecture. He thanked his family for supporting him in his career, which was “at the expense of a personal life”. 

After receiving the award, Kones presented the Cook Workshop on Desert Architecture and Urban Planning. He spoke of his many and varied projects over the past 36 years, beginning with two projects that had a major impact at the start of his career. 

“I came directly from the Technion in Haifa,” said Kones. “I started my PhD process and came here to establish a desert and desertification unit at Sede Boqer, where nothing except some old buildings existed and with a little help from some friends, we started a business.” 

His first process was to invite architectural students from the Technion to come down to the desert to help them turn two old buildings that were being used as hostels into solar-powered (bio-climatic) buildings. 

“I was very surprised that about 14 or 15 people came down. We spent three days working together all day long and at night we had lectures and meetings. This was also the first time that grey water was used. We fixed the showers so the water could be used for irrigation. Some of us still remain good friends, and some of them became very good architects with offices in Israel. 

“My first project with Prof. Givoni was as consultants on the first solar library in Israel, maybe the first solar library in the world that used natural light for books – lighting and heating – and it had, for the first time, windows facing south,” he said. “It was a very clever way so that you didn’t get any direct sun inside the library, but only indirect. And in the summer, there were ventilators that worked in the same way to cool the place. There were only about two or three [solar-powered] air conditioning units covering 800 sqm in the library, which still works today.” This library was built in Yerucham between 1977 and 1979. 

Kones sees every building, every project as an ecosystem where each one has inputs and outputs. He says it consists of a natural system, human system and a technical system, among others. He developed an environmental model from these ideas, which he uses for teaching and in his personal work – and he has used his ideas in every solar-powered building since then. 

Kones concluded his presentation with the story of Adam. “When G-d created the first man, He took him around Paradise, Gan Eden, and showed him all the creations – the beautiful trees, the creatures, etc – and he told him, ‘Look at all this, at how beautiful it all is, and all this, for you, I created, but be careful because if you spoil this, there is nobody to repair it’.” Kones believes “it is our duty to preserve this planet for the ages, for the next generations”. “It is important to design with nature - to make a plan that suits the site, rather than changing the site to suit the plan,” he says. 


Above: Prof. Isaac Meir (left) presents Architect Matti Kones with the Jeffrey Cook Prize in Desert Architecture