The Bauhaus school of architecture and fine arts was founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany by a group of young, visionary students who wanted to change the face of architecture through a new, avant-garde yet rational approach to design. Also known as the ‘International Style,’ the movement began in 1919 and was much influenced by the state-of-the-art ideas of revolutionary architect Le Corbusier. Their innovative and somewhat experimental attitude towards design covered all fields of living, from fine arts to furniture design to public commissions and private architecture; its hyper-modernist yet accessible approach was key to its appeal.
Tel Aviv, also known as the ‘White City,’ holds a special place in the world of Bauhaus architecture. Growing waves of immigration from Europe during the period between the two world wars sparked a mass building movement all over the country, and nowhere else more so than in rapidly urbanizing Tel Aviv. No less than 17 former Bauhaus students emigrated from Germany to the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1930s and they began to transform the quickly modernizing country and its major cities into one of the most impressive collections of Bauhaus architecture in the world.
The Tel Aviv city municipality is nowadays in the process of restoring and renovating many of its historic buildings, though many are still not in very good condition due to the extremely hot and humid climate. However, there are still many important examples of well-preserved Israeli-Bauhaus architecture that are as impressive as ever. Here are five not to miss:
The private mansion was commissioned in 1933 by one of the first Tel-Avivian photographers, Avraham Soskin, famous for his true-to-life documentations of everyday urban life in the Tel Aviv of the 1920s and 1930s. This very unique example of modernist architecture was built by Israeli architect Ze’ev Rechter. Although Rechter was not originally from Germany, nor did he study under the German Bauhaus School, he is considered one of the most influential architects who designed some of Tel Aviv’s most iconic buildings. This building now restored and renovated is very impressive in its flowing, nautical, almost ship-like curves along its façade and balconies. Rechter was a pioneer in the Israeli- Bauhaus movement; he modified the European style to better suit Israeli climate and the Tel-Aviv city conditions. Small windows, narrow shaded balconies and white or cream colours were used to keep the interior as cool and breezy as possible. The Soskin House incorporates all these aspects of practicality while remaining sleek, elegant and modern.
The Hotel Cinema
Originally named the Esther Cinema, the Hotel Cinema by architect Yehuda Magidowitz, built in 1930, is located in one of the most central parts of Tel Aviv – the Dizengoff Circle designed by one of his contemporaries Genia Auerbach. Despite being located so close to such a monumental piece of International Style architecture, Magidowitz’s remarkable structure still emanates an incredibly strong presence thanks to its streamlined, ribbon-like balconies and geometric windows, and its peculiarly curved structure. It has gone through a number of restorations that have only contributed to the building’s character; today it is a hotel, its interior has been renovated, yet it still carries an air of 1930s Bauhaus chic.
This unconventional building was built by Yehuda Lulka in 1936. It is known as the ‘Thermometer House’ because of the harsh vertical lines of diagonal, slatted windows running down its entire four-story length. It is less stout and massive than other Tel Aviv-Bauhaus buildings of the time, more streamlined and airy. Though this building may appear to be more decorative than other Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv, it too is first and foremost a practical, living space. The oddly shaped slanted windows are perfectly aligned with an interior staircase, letting in light throughout the day but not as much heat as open, wide windows.
One of the more geometrical examples of the Bauhaus style, the Bauhaus Museum, originally built for Shlomo Yafe in 1933, is very prominent with its sharp jutting corners and strong three-dimensional shapes. The architect Shlomo Gefstein layered differently sized windows and balconies, which add depth to create a dialogue between positive and negative space, light and shadow. This building is in good condition due to private ownership and restoration. The ground floor has been transformed into an art exhibition space.
Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Though this piece of architecture was not built during the period in which most of ‘The White City’ was designed and built, the similarities between this building and those of the 1930s are striking. The bright white color, geometric shapes, small square windows and flat roof are extremely reminiscent of an older Tel Aviv. This building is truly an architectural masterpiece: during construction, the architect Preston Scott Cohen faced difficulties planning out square and rectangular gallery rooms in a space that was practically triangular. Preston Scott Cohen followed his Modernist predecessors in letting ‘form follow function.’ Even though this building may seem extravagant and strange from the outside, it was made to fit a purpose, and the execution of this project was done with outstanding precision and dedication.
By Naomi Lubash
Naomi Lubash is a second year Art History and Italian Studies student at NYU and is currently spending a year in Florence, following her love for Renaissance painting. She comes home to Tel Aviv, and is very much interested in the contemporary art scene, she herself paints whenever she gets the chance, you can check out her own art on her Instagram page: naomilubash.