Of all the buildings he designed, Austen St. Barbe Harrison was particularly fond of the Rockefeller Museum. The architect's first step in preparing himself for the task of designing the new museum was to visit museums in Europe. Upon his return to Palestine, he studied the buildings of Jerusalem's Old City. His aim was to combine architectural elements from both East and West.
Final stages of construction, 1934
From the western tradition Harrison derived the concept of integrating several wings in single structure (though the differences in height between these wings was inspired by the buildings he saw in the Old City). The exhibition halls were designed to resemble a cathedral, with high windows admitting natural light. Their ceilings reflect the spirit of the European Renaissance. The library is reminiscent of medieval architecture.
From the eastern and local building traditions Harrison adopted the use of stone carving and openwork techniques, the shapes of the entranceways, domed and vaulted ceilings, Armenian tiles, and woodwork.
The exhibition in the Southern Gallery was planned by the Museum’s first director, British archaeologist J. H. Iliffe. It has stood virtually unchanged until today.
Harrison also incorporated contemporary architectural trends in his design of this symmetrical building. He emphasized functionality, employed clean geometric forms, kept decorativeness to a minimum, and used concrete as a building material. The cork floors of the galleries, intended to reduce noise, were an innovation in those days.
The Meeting Room, located in the southwestern corner of the Museum, was used by the Archaeological Advisory Board during the period of the British Mandate. Its ceiling, made by David Ohannessian, is domed, and its cornices are adorned with white tiles bearing a quote from Plato, in which the word Greek word "archaeology" occurs for the first time.
The quote is a reply to Socrates, who had asked his fellow philosopher Hippias what people liked to hear in his speeches: "On the nations, Socrates, the heroes, and on the people and on settlements, how, in antiquity, the cities were founded, and, in short, all about the ancient history [Greek: archaiologia] - this is what they like to hear" (Plato, Hippias Major, 285d).
This plaster model is one of a series of models of the Museum produced by Austen St. Barbe Harrison. Made in 1929, it represents the final plan for the building. The model was shown to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. during his visit to Palestine that year. Rockefeller never returned to see the completed building.
The square courtyard with the pine tree in the center, which connects the Museum building to Qasr el-Sheikh, was never built.