by Yael Zisling
There are those who describe Tel
Aviv as a drab, gray city of concrete. However, if you look beyond
the worn buildings façade you will encounter the largest
collection of buildings whose architectural roots can be traced to the
Bauhaus architecture of Germany. It is perhaps ironic that Tel Aviv
houses the largest number of buildings designed in an architectural
style that developed in pre-Nazi Germany, a style that came to an abrupt
end in Germany, with the Nazis rise to power. This architectural
style is so prevalent in Tel Aviv that it almost seems as though it
were a local style, but it is not.
There are a number of characteristics to the Bauhaus/International
Style of architecture:
1) It shuns ornamentation and favors functionality
2) Uses asymmetry and regularity versus symmetry
3) It grasps architecture in terms of space versus mass
Bauhaus buildings are usually cubic, favor right angles, (although
some feature rounded corners and balconies); they have smooth facades
and an open floor plan.
Bauhaus architecture, whose founding father was Walter Gropius, developed
in Germany in the 1920s and later in the U.S., in the 1930s. The American
form of this architectural style was dubbed the International Style
after Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and other leaders of Bauhaus migrated
to the U.S., with the Nazis growing influence. The Bauhaus school
in Dessau was closed on April 11th, 1933, by the police, at the insistence
of the National Socialist government.
Purists assert that Bauhaus architecture can only refer to buildings
in Germany and anything else should be termed International Style
while others use the terms interchangeably (as is the case in this issue
of Gems in Israel). The term International Style was really adopted
after the publication of a book that coincided with a 1932 exhibition
at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The book, by historian Henry-Russell
Hitchcock and architect Philip Johnson, was called, The International
Bauhaus architecture was concerned with the social aspects of design
and with the creation of a new form of social housing for workers. This
may be just another one of the reasons it was embraced in the newly
evolving city of Tel Aviv, at a time when socialist ideas were so prevalent.
This style of architecture came about (in part) because of new engineering
developments that allowed the walls to be built around steel or iron
frames. This meant that walls no longer had to support the structure,
but only enveloped it from the outside.
The teachings at the Bauhaus school of design, which functioned from
1919 to 1933 (first in Weimar and later in Dessau), were greatly influenced
by the machine age. The school's aim was to fuse all the arts under
the concept of design. The school had 700 students and was known for
requiring its students to forget everything they had learned to date.
Gropius engaged some of the best artists of the day, Paul Klee, Vassily
Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger, and Oscar Schlemmer, to name a few, to
teach at the school. Influential Bauhaus architects were Walter Gropius,
Mies van der Rohe, Hannes Meyer and Le Corbusier to name a few.
The International Style was a decidedly different type of architecture
that did not rely on the architecture of the past, but aimed to establish
a new, modern style. In Tel Aviv, Bauhaus architecture gained a foothold,
as there was no real entrenched architectural style. While this style
of architecture can also be found in Haifa and Jerusalem as well as in
it is most prevalent in Tel Aviv.
Bauhaus in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv has the largest collection of buildings built in the International
Style, anywhere in the world. Bauhaus architecture flourished in Tel
Aviv (as elsewhere in the country) in the 1930s due in great part
to the fact that 17 former Bauhaus students, worked locally as architects.
Arieh Sharon, Dov Carmi, Zeev Rechter, Pinchas Hueth,
Josef Neufeld, Genia Averbuch Richard Kauffmann and Erich Mendelsohn
are just some of the architects, who contributed to the local abundance
of Bauhaus architecture. Sharon, (no relation to the current prime minister)
was known for his cooperative workers dwellings in Tel Aviv, work
on many of the countrys hospitals and his early beginnings in
kibbutz Gan Shmuel. Averbuch is best known because in 1934, at 25, she
won second prize (no first prize was given), in the competition to design
Dizengoff Circle, in memory of Zina Dizengoff, Meir Dizengoffs
wife. While Mendelsohn designed the private residence of the countrys
first president, Dr. Chaim
Between the First and Second World Wars, there was a great building
momentum in Tel Aviv, because of the growing waves of immigration from
Europe. Buildings that now show their age were once painted white (or
beige). The city had many white buildings, which came to
be associated with the International Style (even though white exteriors
are not really one its characteristics). Nevertheless, that is the source
of the citys nickname of The White City.
Tel Aviv has the largest number of cooperative workers apartments
in the country. The aim was to provide residents with as much equality
in living quarters. These blocks of apartments, operated almost as self-contained
units. Residents had a variety of services right in the buildings, including
kindergarten, post office, convenience store, laundry etc. Additionally,
a plot of land was set aside, so that residents could grow their own
vegetables. Having a connection to the land was viewed as
extremely important. An example of such a cooperative unit can be seen
at the corner of Frishman, Dov Hoz and Frug streets. This block of buildings
also served as headquarters of the Haganah.
There are over 1500 International Style buildings in Tel Aviv, slated
for preservation/restoration. Looking at some of the buildings already
restored, one can only imagine how beautiful and modern the city must
have looked in the 1930s.
Some Local Bauhaus Adaptations
Some of the key elements of Bauhaus architecture had to be adapted
to the local environment, primarily because of the climate. One of the
key elements of the International Style in Europe was a large window.
However, in a hot climate large windows that let great amounts
of light shine into the rooms do not make sense. Locally, glass
was used sparingly and long, narrow, horizontal windows are visible
on many of the Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv. On some buildings, you
can also see long narrow balconies, which in many cases have now been
enclosed. This was an adaptation of the long narrow windows.
The horizontal strip window was a signature characteristic
of Le Corbusier. A number of local architects worked in Le Corbusiers
office in Paris and were greatly influenced by his style.
Stilt Columns (Pilotis)
Another element used by Le Corbusier was stilt-type columns (pilotis),
which raised the buildings off street level thereby creating room for
a green garden area while providing greater airflow.
The first building built in this manner in Tel Aviv, was Beit Engel.
It was built in 1933, by Zeev Rechter, and is located at 84 Rothschild
Boulevard, and the corner of Mazeh Street. Rothschild Boulevard
is an excellent area to see a great variety of Bauhaus buildings (although
quite a few are in dire need of restoration). If you go to see the Engel
building today you will notice that the open area created
by the stilt columns has been enclosed. Rechter fought for two years
to get approval to build on these stilt columns. This type of building
became quite common, in Tel Aviv and the surrounding cities, although
by the 1940s fewer buildings were being built in this manner in
Another of the local features of the Bauhaus buildings, are the flat
roofs, as opposed to the typical shingled and slanted roofs, prevalent
in the European buidlings. The roofs served all of a buidlings
residents. While roofs in most cases did not feature gardens, (as envisioned
by Le Corbusier), they were a place where social events were held and
where the laundry room was often located as well.
The local building technology of the time was not advanced. Reinforced
concrete was first used (in Tel Aviv) in 1912. Later it became widely
used, because it was easy to work with and did not require skilled workers.
Bauhaus architecture became common in Tel Aviv of the 1930s for
a variety of reasons. There was a strong tendency toward modernization.
Architects, who worked locally, had strong ties to the European architectural
developments of the day. There was also a need to build cheaply and
quickly because of the growing metropolis.
Tel Aviv is the only city in the world, built mostly, in the International
Style. In fact, over the years a kind of reactionary anti-Bauhaus
Saving and restoring many of the citys wonderful old buildings
is fraught with legal and economic constraints that often make conservation,
less than desirable for the buildings owners. One can only hope
that the coming years will bring solutions that will enable the preservation
of more of Tel Avivs Bauhaus architecture.
Sources: Copyright © 2000 Gems
in Israel. All rights reserved. Reprinted with Permission.