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Israeli architect of urban harmony

The renowned architect who designed the "Seashell" Israel Pavilion at the World Expo has also sought and found family roots in Shanghai and just published two books of poetry and photos in Hebrew, Chinese and English.

Designer Haim Doton (also poet, artist and educator) has strong views about what kind of architecture makes a better city and a better life.

In a poem about the future he calls for "quiet buildings, calm neighborhoods, soft forms" - not jammed together skyscrapers and walls that block the sun.

The books were launched Wednesday in Shanghai.

Doton, 56, is famous for his spectacular curvilinear buildings, such as 12 widely spaced structures in the Financial District Center in the United Arab Emirates.

They are of different tectonic and abstract forms as well as height, making them related to and "dialogue" with each other as in a landscape.

His firm has designed projects in Asia, the Persian Gulf, Africa, Israel and Europe.

Doton is better known by his Chinese name Dutang Hai in Shanghai. Dutang has a similar pronunciation to Doton and means "crossing." Hai, similar to his first name Haim, means "ocean." The name implies his mission - crossing oceans all the way to China.

Doton came to China not only to create the Expo Seashell, but also to find out about his mother's early life.

"It's my life-long wish to find and just take a look at the old houses where my mother was born," Doton said in February, saying his only clue was that the name of the street sounded like "Sharpoo."

Doton's grandparents, like many other Jewish refugees, took shelter in Shanghai around 1915 (many more came later during World War II). His mother was born on the "Sharpoo" street in 1919. When she moved to Israel after the war, she took many souvenirs from China, still used and displayed in Doton's house.

With the only clue No. 18 "Sharpoo" Street, a red-brick house, Doton began his search.

With help from historians, writers, librarians, old neighbors, and other Jewish families, Doton finally figured that "Sharpoo" was Zhapu Street in Hongkou District, once known as "Little Vienna" and filled with Jewish refugees. China sheltered as many as 30,000 Jewish refugees without visas, while other countries turned them away.

In April, just before the Expo started, Doton finally visited the street.

The house was long gone but he was thrilled to see similar buildings and just to know where his mother grew up.

He has also taken in Shanghai's architectural achievements and is not overly fond of the city's urban planning.

"Each building is really beautiful here, but all together, they don't make music. There is no symphony," Doton said as he showed pictures of packed vertical buildings across from the Bund in Pudong.

"All these vertical buildings are like walls. They block the sunshine, the clouds, the sky from us. I can't bear the idea that our children will be living in cities blocked by these walls."

None of the buildings Doton designed is vertical.

The Israel Pavilion, aka the Seashell, is composed of two architectural curvilinear forms, one of stone symbolizing the past and the other of glass symbolizing the future, embracing each other.

Doton's creations include the Aora Solar Energy Tower in Samar, Israel. It's a bright yellow sunflower-inspired tower, a blossom on top of a long thin stem.

"So, even if you put hundreds of such towers all together, they don't block anything because of the huge and beautiful spaces in between," Doton said.

His architectural mission is "to rebuild the harmony and balance that exist in nature." Applying this idea, he suggests Shanghai urban planners maintain longtang, or the traditional Shanghai lane pattern to balance nearby high-rises.

"It is like what Laozi says about wuwei (doing nothing/not disturbing the order of things). Build less and be less controlled, just let things happen naturally," says Doton.

"Similarly, instead of cluttering your home with all kinds of furniture, sometimes one needs only a few very small but precious things to be happy."

These ideas are illustrated through his poems, photos, sketches, and architectural projects as well as his books "After the Rain, Lake Poetry" and "Echo in the Desert," which come as a set. They were written in English and translated into Hebrew by Doton himself and finally into Chinese with help of local translators.

The first "After the Rain" contains nature photos along with 68 complementary poems he wrote in New York.

The second "Echo in the Desert" contains photos and sketches of many of Doton's projects and longer poems such as "Beauty," "The 'AIDS' of Architecture," "Light and Protection" and "Serenity of Nature."

Some photos come from his first visit to China in 1984 when he also made many sketches. He said he was especially impressed by the natural balance in the Yellow Mountain, which later inspired architecture and poetry.


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