In addition to its beaches, vibrant nightlife, bohemian cafés and artisan markets, Tel Aviv harbours a ‘White City’ – the residual gems of the Bauhaus design movement, whose structures contribute a striking impression on the city’s skyline. Though many of this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site’s buildings have fallen into disrepair, their once-gleaming facades graffitied or turned grey, many of the original 4000 Bauhaus buildings have been restored to their former glory.
The Bauhaus movement originated in 1919 in Weimar, Germany and pioneered the modernist ideology that draws intimate connections between aesthetic and social sensibilities. The movement successfully injected artistic creativity into industrial manufacturing, at the same time grounding fine art with purpose and functionality. Furniture, graphic design and architecture became outlets for a commitment to a purposeful, united, innovative community where individual creativity was valued alongside efficient production.
When many of the Jewish Bauhaus architects, hailing from across central and eastern Europe, arrived in British Palestine, having fled from the increasingly popular Nazi ideology, they brought the Bauhaus design principles with them, and endeavoured to realise what they could not in their home countries: a city designed from the ground up, constituted by smooth-lined, universalist structures. Modern Tel Aviv was only 20 years old, the first stone laid in reclaimed swamp land near Jaffa Port in 1909, and almost all of the public and commercial buildings erected in the 1930s followed the Bauhaus style. In 2003 UNESCO declared The White City a World Cultural Heritage Site, for its status as the largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings anywhere in the world.
Many buildings across the country realize a unique Israeli-modernist style, inspired by Bauhaus designs but adapted to the particular environment. On such example is the eminent Engel House at 84 Rothchild Street – the very first Israeli structure built on stilts, to create an illusion of open space in dense cities. The renowned architect, Ze’ev Rechter, innovated with protruding window frames to substitute for the wide windows favoured in Europe, unsuitable to Israel’s climate. Both these features are now common to almost all Israeli buildings, but the original has been neglected and its now-brown façade is underwhelming to behold. Hearteningly, the city municipality are in the process of restoring over 1000 buildings across the city, but for now, the following 10 buildings are the best examples of the inimitable architectural originals of the White City.
Tel Aviv’s most unusual Bauhaus renovation is the fusion of original architecture with a spectacular high-rise structure, at 96 Hayarkon Street. The iconic original was built by Pinhas Bizonsky in 1935, shaped in a symmetrical ‘H’ structure, with beautiful curved balconies along the protruding ‘legs’ and arresting clean lines across the straight central wing. The impressive building has housed many an important cultural and political figure, and is now under the ownership of entrepreneurs Shlomo Grofman and Zalman Shoval, each with their own connection to this piece of historic real estate. The new, ultra-modern addition towers at nine floors-high, above the original Bauhaus architecture that has been so meticulously renovated and reconstructed. The lobby of this outstanding building regularly hosts art exhibitions, celebrating the ongoing developments in the Israel design world. Another of Bizonsky’s creations is the more humble Reuven Rubin House, also now home to a permanent art collection.
For more incredible historic photographs of Tel Aviv, visit Pri-Or Photo House (Zalmania) at Tchernikhovski St 5,. The family-owned shop has been curating the photography archive since 1940, and is the oldest, and one of the most significant of its kind.