1912 – 2003
The first woman to practice as an interior designer in Palestine, Dora Gad was the main designer of the new Israeli establishment. She took upon herself the role of representing the newborn state, creating a wide spectrum of projects in various fields. The interior spaces she designed were unique and suggested an original expression for the crystallizing Israeli identity. Within the modernistic framework of her designs she related to local conditions such as climate and vegetation, as well as local techniques and materials, creating an up-to-date mixture of tradition and contemporary art.
Dora Siegel was born in 1912 in the Romanian town of Campulung. She was educated at both a Jewish-Hebrew and a general government school, and was under the influence of central European culture at home. She spent her childhood at the home of her grandfather, a tailor to the gentry, where she first developed an interest in architecture. Between 1930 and 1934 she studied at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna, obtaining a diploma in engineering and architecture. In Vienna she met her future husband, Yehezkel Goldberg (1911–1958), who was studying architecture at the same institute. They married in 1936, immigrated to Palestine and settled in Tel Aviv. There were no children from the marriage.
Yehezkel Goldberg found a position in the office of the interior designer Alfred Abram, and Dora in the office of Oskar Kauffman, which greatly enriched her experience. In 1938 she started to work independently. Her first projects, design shops in Tel Aviv, classified her as an interior designer. In 1942 she formed a partnership with her husband and together they started to design the interiors of private apartments.
Unlike most interior designers in Palestine, who had arrived in the country with professional experience and a formed approach developed in Europe, Dora began with a fresh attitude towards the local context. Her design for apartments was distinctly different from the “bourgeois” style which dominated interior design in Tel Aviv at the time and expressed the new immigrants’ longing for the ‘old country’. Her own style was light and modern and responded to the Palestinian qualities she had discovered—the strong bright light, modern building style and local building materials. Dora used a variety of materials: available fabrics, wool carpets, woven work, straw and felt. In the general atmosphere of seeking original style and the attempt to create a local architectural identity, between European modernism on the one hand, and the romantic-eclectic Orientalism on the other hand, Dora Gad began to establish her local cultural expression and formed her style. She believed the interior of the house to be a direct continuation of the exterior physical and mental environment, unable to function detached from the local cultural context. Strong resonant colorfulness, airiness and lightness, together with extensive use of local materials and workmanship, were the clear expression of her interpretation of locality.
Following the establishment of the State of Israel, and during the course of the 1950s, Dora and Yehezkel Gad became the most prominent interior designers in Israel. Influenced by Moshe Sharett and according to then prevalent social norms, Dora and Yehezkel Goldberg changed their surname to the Hebrew name Gad. They were invited to carry out work that would create the image of the new state over a wide range of projects: government buildings and institutions; the formal residence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister (Jerusalem, 1950), the National Library (Jerusalem, 1956), Israel Embassies in Washington D.C. and Ankara, offices of the national airline EL AL (New York, 1956 and London, 1959) as well as the Sharon and Accadia luxury hotels (Herzliyyah, 1955), the vessels of Zim, the national shipping line (together with the Mansfeld-Weinraub firm, 1955–1975) and the EL AL Britannia aircraft. During these years Dora Gad also co-operated with Ruth Dayan and fashion designer Fini Leitersdorf at Maskit and used many of their “folklore” products in her design projects. The 1950s were characterized by symbolic and representative presentation in which the various components of her work became crystallized, identifiable in form and idea. The symbolism was created by the combination of various components, such as the extensive use of works of art, especially wall art, which made her the major encourager of placing Israeli artwork in public spaces that she designed. After the death of Yehezkel Gad in 1958, Dora established a partnership with Arie Noy, a longtime employee in her office. Gad-Noy existed until 1976. In 1959 Dora married Efraim Ben Arzi (1910–2001), a former general and prominent public figure. Dora designed their house in Caesarea (1974), where she lived until her death in 2003.
During the 1960s Dora Gad was involved in the design of central national architectural projects of the state. She became the designer of the visual idiom of Israeli government and her work is characterized by restraint, dignity and refinement. The Gad-Noy firm designed numerous governmental projects: ministers’ chambers, government offices, public buildings and the flagship of Israel’s commercial fleet, the SS Shalom (together with the architect Al Mansfeld, 1964). Her most important works were the interior design of the Knesset (1966) and the design of the Israel Museum (1965), following a competition which she and Al Mansfeld won. This project was the basis for the Israel Prize in Architecture awarded to the two in 1966. The prize was also bestowed as a tribute for the thirty years in which Dora Gad advanced design and interior planning in Israel. In 1966 she also received the prestigious design prize Regulo D’Oro, awarded annually by the Italian magazine Domus, for her plan of modular concrete units. Returning to work for the private sector, Gad planned some of the largest luxury hotels (such as the Tel Aviv Hilton, 1965, and the Jerusalem Hilton, 1974), where the challenge was to attain an international visual language of luxury and wealth without losing the Israeli character. When her husband left his position as general manager of EL AL, Dora returned to work for the airline and designed the offices of the company in Zurich, Amsterdam, Brussels and Bucharest (1974–1980). She also designed the Ben-Gurion airport (1973) and the EL AL terminal at Kennedy airport in New York (1970 and 1974).
When the partnership with Arie Noy ended in 1976, Dora Gad continued to work on her own until her death on December 31, 2003. During these years she was involved in a wide variety of projects, such as the offices of the governor of the Bank of Israel (Jerusalem, 1980), changes in the residence of the prime minister and the president’s official residence (1984–1985), the Diamond Museum (Ramat Gan, 1986), exhibition design for museums (1987), hotels, restaurants and offices. Her last interior design was Beit Gavriel (Gabriel House) on the banks of the Kinneret (1993). In 1994 Dora designed her retrospective exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Her uncompromising devotion to her work, her perfectionism in the design of detail, her diverse and creative use of material and color, all left a mark on Israeli design. Through over half a century of fruitful work in Israel, Dora Gad emerged as the national designer of the Israeli image.
Shechori, Ran. Dora Gad: The Israeli Presence in Interior Design. Architecture in Israel (Hebrew and English). Tel Aviv: 1997; Zandberg, Esther. “Dora Gad, 1912–2003.” Haaretz, January 2, 2003.