Tel Aviv is no less than a world-renowned architectural gem, one that architecture students worldwide dream of visiting.
It’s the Bauhaus architecture, which was all the rage in the 1930’s, that’s still there behind the façades of houses not a century old. Tel Aviv has concentrated in a small area some of the world’s most unique and modern buildings, which together form the world’s largest collection of structures with roots in the German “Bauhaus” architectural school.
While the story of how Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew city, came to be the capital of an architectural style so distinctly German, in a fascinating one. The Bauhaus style of design and architecture (also known as the “international style”) was fathered and developed by Walter Gropius, a German artist and architect in Germany between the two world wars. Highly modern and controversial back in the day, it was taught to eager young architects in a school established for the sole purpose of teaching Bauhaus, in the German city of Weimar, and later moved to Dassau Berlin.
For a few short years the Bauhaus style knew a period of prosperity and popularity and the school that taught it managed to attract big names such as Mies van der Rohe and Vassili Kandinsky to come and teach. It was able to train a generation of young architects on the principles of Bauhaus: simplicity and functionality, a general lack of ornamentation, a tendency towards asymmetry, and a way of thinking that considers not only the building, but the space in which it exists.
For that time, it was radical, odd at times, and cutting edge. Yet the style and thought behind it, that pertained not only to the design of buildings but to furniture and other objects, all but died in Germany when the National Socialist government closed the Bauhaus school in April of 1933.
What Germany lost, Tel Aviv gained: As a result of the changes in Europe and the closing of the school, some 17 young architects, well trained in Bauhaus style and with nowhere to practice their craft, arrived in Tel Aviv bursting with ideas. Luckily for them and for us, they arrived in critical time, just as the young city of Tel Aviv had adopted a new city and daring plan–the “Geddes Plan” that made it possible to expand the city and add many much needed buildings to it. Though the Bauhaus architects didn’t build exclusively in Tel Aviv, it was Tel Aviv that gained the most from Bauhaus: In only about 12 years an astounding 1,500 Bauhaus styled structures were added to the town, mainly in the area known as the “White City.”
This area stretches from Ben-Gurion Boulevard, up Rothschild Boulevard and over to Magen-David square, where one can see the Polischouk House (1 Nachalat Binyamin Street), a prime example of Bauhaus architecture. Of course some changes and adaptations were made to the style, which was originally meant for cold climates. Windows were made bigger and roofs were made flat, and balconies were added, often round balconies on square buildings. You’ll easily notice the gigantic rooftop terrace and wide windows on the Polischouk House.
While some purists might argue that the changes made disqualify the buildings in Tel Aviv from being “pure” Bauhaus, in 2003 the UN’s cultural and educational organization, UNESCO, declared the “White City” a World Heritage Site, based on the cultural value of such an amazing congregation of Bauhuas style buildings.
Those who are interested in Bauhaus and want to see it for themselves need only to go to Tel Aviv and take a walk. Anywhere you look, you’re bound to see a white square building with round balconies and large windows. Some of the buildings, such as the renowned Be’it Ha’Onia (the ship house) 56 Levanda Street (on the corner of Ha’masger and Ha’rakevet), are easy to spot, as they are almost purely Bauhaus and stand out clearly form the back ground. Others, such as the Thermometer House (5 Froog street), are harder to spot, as they are either hard to find in the urban web that is Tel Aviv, or have diverged radically from classical Bauhaus, as is the case of the Thermometer House (named for a column of thin horizontal shades in its front, that resemble a thermometer).
For more information, visit the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv or the center’s website, where you can find lists of buildings and their individual stories. Come around the middle of May and you might even be able to see some of them from the inside, through one of the “Batim M’befnim” (houses from the inside) free tours organized by the city.