70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

Israel's reinforced concrete

Árpád Gut (1877-1948) - engineer

By Erush Sivan - 2018-02-16

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

"Tel-Aviv is my country, my city, I can imagine life only here; I've always rushed back whenever I was away from here and felt that I had really arrived home  when I was back on Tel-Aviv's streets. The menorah on top of the water tower I had built was shining brightly over my city; the city I saw being developed from scratch into something truly significant became my home." (Árpád Gut)


Árpád Gut (Abraham) made aliyah from Budapest to Eretz Israel in March 1921. The last strike was for him the launch of a bridge damaged by war. Gut was involved in the bridge's restoration work, but he was not invited to the opening ceremony because he was Jewish. He left behind a profitable design office, founded in 1908 with his partner and friend Jenő Gergely; one of the most important offices in Hungary. Twelve years of their partnership resulted in bridges, public and residential buildings, factories, industrial facilities, water reservoirs and water towers, grain mills, headquarters and military bases; they designed and constructed a total of six hundred and fifty-four reinforced concrete and steel structures in Hungary and abroad.

Gut was born in 1877 in Kéthely, in the western part of Hungary; his father was a teacher. He received Jewish education at the elementary school. He was sent to Budapest, to the famed Markó Street Catholic High School, where his outstanding mathematical talent attracted special attention and altogether, he was considered an excellent student. After graduating from high school, he attended the Technical University where he was granted an engineering diploma in 1901. As a trainee at the Ganz Danubius design office, he specialized in the design of bridges, reinforced concrete and steel structures.

 

In the First World War Árpád Gut was taken prisoner by the Russians. After the war, when he returned and started working again, he could sense the rise of anti-Semitism. His aliyah was not motivated by Zionism. He was not a member of the Maccabee Student Union, where he could have been imbued with the Zionist spirit, but his Zionist friends - Ármin Beregi and Mór Bisseliches - had a great impact on him. Then the last strike occurred ... At that time - in 1921 – he made up his mind to leave Hungary and settle in Eretz Israel. A year later his wife and two sons followed. Gut viewed Eretz Israel as a "marvelous desert" where something new could be created from nothing - recalls his biographer, Dr. Emil Feuerstein.

 

Árpád Gut died in Tel-Aviv on May 24, 1948, ten days after the State of Israel was proclaimed. After twenty-seven productive years in Eretz Israel, he left behind an impressive oeuvre and extraordinary buildings. Árpád Gut was led by his dedication to his profession, his creative thinking, the desire to solve complicated professional tasks, and to elevate Eretz Israel to the European level. The more than thirty installations designed and built by him will keep his legacy forever.

 

Gut's work in the Middle East

 

Thanks to Gut's professional skills, he got a job immediately after arriving in Eretz Israel. The Galé Aviv Casino on the beach was built in an eclectic style; the architect Yehuda Megidovich studied in Odessa and designed the café after an Odessa pattern. Gut contributed to the structural design of the building: he designed the reinforced concrete frame, which allowed the shaping of the building according to the architect's idea. Sources claim, it was Gut who placed the building on pillars. At that time no one was able to solve the engineering problem of sinking the pillars into the sea. Thanks to Gut's experience in building bridges, he succeeded in lowering and fastening the pillars to the seabed.

The casino at the end of the Allenby street on the beach, Tel-Aviv, 1922

The casino was opened in 1922, the café with musical performances and the restaurant were the meeting point for the artists, the intellectual elite and the Tel-Aviv celebrities of the twenties and thirties. Over the years, the casino was hit by heavy losses: it was closed during the thunderstorms in winter; the high waves ruined the pillars, fracturing them. The town hall eventually decided to demolish the building. It was blown up in 1939.

 

The first assignment was followed by another one in Tel- Aviv; Gut built a gateway at Yafo, in Herzl Street 16. In the autumn of 1921, he was commissioned to construct the great mills of Haifa, financed by the Rothschild family foundation. In the autumn of 1922, another giant project was commissioned by Béla Spiegel, another engineer of Hungarian origin who was the founder of Eretz Israel’s cement industry: to supervise the design and construction of the Nesher cement factory's infrastructure and buildings. Some of the buildings erected 1922-24 are still visible today.

In the 1920s, Gut participated in the construction of the Strauss Health Palace on Balfour Street in Tel Aviv; of the Mandate Land Surveying Division on Jehuda Halevi Street; the Power Company Plant on Hashmal Street and the first water towers of the city. Gut mentioned the water tower with the menorah on top still visible today  on Maze Street in an interview in 1946: "Tel-Aviv is my country, my city, I can imagine life only here; I've always rushed back whenever I was away from here and felt that I had really arrived home  when I was back on Tel-Aviv's streets. The menorah on top of the water tower I had built was shining brightly over my city; the city I saw being developed from scratch into something truly significant became my home."

The water tower on Maze Street, way back when and today – photo: Gabi Berger

At first, the Gut family lived in various parts of Tel-Aviv until Gut built the villa at 13 Trumpeldor Street, which, thanks to its large courtyard and the friendly host was filled with guests every Saturday; it became a kind of "Hungarian island."  Many came who needed work or professional retraining.

The villa of the Gut family, 13 Trumpeldor Street, Tel-Aviv

Árpád Gut laid the foundations of the complex Tel-Aviv drainage system; he initiated the work that was later carried out based on the plans of the engineer Supreski. Gut has set up the hangar of Ludd Airport, and the huge iron constructions of the Haifa railway yards. He is associated with the development of the dome of the Tel-Aviv Great Synagogue with a special double dome system he dreamt up. The first plan for the construction of the Great Synagogue was presented by the architect Alexander Baerwald in Berlin in 1914, but the First World War prevented the realization of his plan. After the war, in 1920, Tel Aviv's technical committee issued a tender for the design of a synagogue on Allenby Street. The contest was won by the architect Yehuda Megidovich, who designed a local eclectic style building with oriental characteristics, with a dome, lancet windows and Jewish motifs: David stars on the windows and the tables of the law above the entrance. The foundation stone of the building was laid in November 1921 but the construction of the double-walled dome remained technically unresolved: the walls could not bear its weight. Until 1926, the finished wings of the synagogue had been used without the dome; and finally Gut solved the dome construction by reinforcing the support structure, eliminating the inner wall, thereby reducing its weight. He designed a steel dome and covered it with copper.

The Gut Bridge

The crowning achievement of Gut’s engineering oeuvre is the bridge in the city of Al Raqqa in Syria, across the Euphrates river. Its design and rapid implementation made the bridge a remarkable success of engineering work.

 

In the new geopolitical situation at the beginning of 1942, the British had to prepare for a potential need for rapid retreat to Persia. It was necessary to build a heavy-duty bridge at the strategic Syrian section of the Euphrates as soon as possible. Based on the preliminary plans, the new bridge would have been completed in two years, but since this seemed too long, the British command had turned to the renowned engineer Árpád Gut, the expert bridge builder. A condition to the commission was that the work be completed within three months with special attention to the scarcity of available iron concerning the use of building material - Gut had accepted the request despite tight deadlines and raw material deficiencies. In just three days, his design was completed. Because of the lack of iron, he worked with recycled materials offered by the British army: oil barrels deformed by Italian bombers in Haifa provided the raw material on one side of the bridge to the two-thousand-ton longitudinal beams, and the pillars of the bridge were made from pipes previously used for oil drilling in Baghdad. Initially, the bridge was being built on both banks of the river, according to two different procedures. The south side is made of steel, the northern side of concrete, probably due to the different depths of the two banks of the river or the scarce supply of raw materials. The prefabricated iron elements for the bridge were manufactured by Gut & Sons Iron Structures in the Rishon LeZion industrial district, a plant that was founded by Gut and his partner, Gurevich in 1937.

The two sides of the Gut bridge

In honor of Gut, the British, satisfied with his work, placed a memorial plaque on the bridge during a ceremony in June 1942. "Here stands the Gut Bridge, named after its builder, who designed it in three days, built it in four months and twenty-nine days, and continued his work during the spring floods. The beams were oil barrels burnt in enemy fire; the pylons were constructed from used oil well drilling tubes from Baghdad and other remote locations."

 

Although it was built for war, it served well in peace. After the war, Syria bought the bridge from the English, and all the memorial plaques for Jewish builders had disappeared; the bridge was renamed Al Raqqa.

The Gut memorial plaque.

Source:  Virtual exhibition, Safed Memorial Museum

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