Tel Aviv – Bauhaus architecture walks around the White City

The Bauhaus was a German art school that promoted rational, functional design. Founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919, it sought to create a radically new form of architecture and design in order to help rebuild society after World War I. Its demise came in 1933 when many Bauhaus artists fled from, or were exiled by, the Nazi regime.

The diaspora led to the Bauhaus having a major impact on art and architecture trends in Western Europe, North America and Israel. In architecture Bauhaus developed into what is known as International Style, which was characterised by ‘an emphasis on volume over mass, the use of lightweight, mass-produced, industrial materials, rejection of all ornament and color, repetitive modular forms, and the use of flat surfaces, typically alternating with areas of glass’ (definition here).

International Style buildings look similar regardless of their national context, in contrast to the ‘individualistic manner’ of the Art Nouveau architects that preceded them (such as Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, Otto Wagner in Vienna or Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow) who represented the end of Romanticism. Thanks to the arrival of German Jewish Bauhaus architects after 1933, Tel Aviv has the largest number of Bauhaus/International Style buildings of any city in the world. Collectively known as the White City, the ensemble of over 4000 buildings received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004.

Readers of this blog will know I’m a huge fan of modern styles of architecture and this was a major reason I came to Israel in the first place. Happily I managed to cajol my friends to come on some architecture walks with me (a good way to wear off all the great food!). The first walk was a guided tour put on by the Bauhaus Center which was more about looking at the features that define International Style. The second and third are walks I put together to look at some classic examples of the style. You’ll find everywhere mentioned on my Google map.

The first tour started at the Bauhaus Center at 77 Dizengoff Street where we watched a video about Bauhaus before setting off.

First we walked down to Ruth Garden where there’s a small Bauhaus kiosk cafe in the square. Our guide brought us here because the buildings on the streets off the square display many classic Bauhaus characteristics in close proximity.

It’s important to note that not all Bauhaus buildings look the same. Although they can be angular and linear, typically many feature curved balconies and rounded corners.

Bauhaus façades are usually white, smooth and unadorned so the brown ceramic tiling on this doorway is definitely not typical. Our guide explained that for some jews fleeing the nazis, the only way they could bring some of their money out of the country was in the form of building materials, such as ceramic tiles.

Porthole windows (see pics above) are another common feature (shared with Art Deco). Windows are also often designed as long ribbon-like bands (see pics below). Metal window frames were another important innovation.

When vertical, the ribbons are sometimes called thermometer windows and usually light stairwells and, later when the three-storey limit was relaxed, lift shafts.

A fine example is the Thermometer House at 5 Frug Street (built by Yehuda Lulka in 1936). Although they look ornamental, the slanted windows are actually very functional as they allow light in (onto an aligned interior staircase) without letting in as much heat as conventional windows would.

Rooves are always flat to maximise living space and often have a terrace or a roof garden (attics in pitched rooves just provide cramped storage). They often feature a gazebo or a rail running around the edge.

On the walk we also visited Dizengoff Square which is the only square in the world to be completely encircled by Bauhaus buildings.

The most iconic being the Cinema Hotel (formerly the Esther Cinema, built in 1930 by architect Yehuda Magidowitz).

On the other side of the square at 16 Ben Ami Street is the Rav Hen Dizengoff, an acutal functioning cinema which opened in 1950 (so it’s late Bauhaus).

I also did a couple of walks under my own steam…

The shortest was Bialik Street which has several classic examples of both Eclectic Style (see next post) and Bauhaus, including the Bauhaus Museum at 21 Bialik Street. The building is lovely (Streetview here) but the musuem is very small.

18 Bialik Street has some classic curves.

9 Bialik Street has a nice thermometer window.

As an aside, if you’re in this area, check out The Photo House at 5 Tchernikhovski Street where you can view a stunning collection of archival photos of Tel Aviv in its early years and buy many of them as postcards.

Another famous, and much longer street that’s lined with Bauhaus buildings is Rothschild Boulevard. It’s worth walking the whole length starting here…

61 Rothschild Boulevard (Salomon Gepstein 1932). Note the gaps in the balcony rail to help air circulation, another Bauhaus innovation.

Over the road and one block down is 79 Yehuda ha-Levi Street, an example of the perfect symmetry beloved by many Bauhaus architects.

71 Rothschild Boulevard was designed by Zeev Rechter, one of the founders of Israeli Modernist architecture, in 1933. I really like the simple, snaking line running across the facade.

77 Rothschild Boulevard is a scruffy but classic example of unknown provenance. The balconies are reminiscent of an Art Deco block I once lived in London. The straight lines and lack of curves make it different to Bauhaus in my mind. It’s also interesting to compare the renovated houses with those still waiting to be spruced up, of which there are many along the boulevard.

79 Rothschild Boulevard (Berlin & Berlin, 1929) also looks quite Deco with its square balconies and a central stairwell that divides the building into two halves.

I seem to recall our architecture tour guide telling us that during the Bauhaus period, planning regs forbade buildings higher than three stories within the White City. As the city developed however, these rules seem to have been relaxed and now many of the residential structures we saw have had a couple of extras stories added, or have had a whole new building tacked on the back so that the original becomes the entrance, as seems to be the case here.

81 Rothschild Boulevard (Moshe Czerner 1931) has rounded balconies that emphasise its corner location.

Just on the other side of the road, at 44 Balfour Street, is annother example of Eclectic Style (see next post).

85 Rothschild Boulevard (Carl Rubin 1933) has recessed balconies and a vertical ribbon window.

104 Rothschild Boulevard is one of my favourites. We know it was built in the 20s but nobody seems to know who the architect was.

118 Rothschild Boulevard (Yitzhak Rapoport 1933) has a great example of a thermometer window and some lovely ‘floating’ balconies.

It’s interesting to contrast it with its more modern Bauhaus neighbour at 120 Rothschild Boulevard.

On the other side of the road is 117 Rothschild Boulevard (also Yitzhak Rapoport 1933) with its series of sharp and rounded corners and thermometer stairwells.

And finally on this stretch is 142 Rothschild Boulevard although I don’t have a photo sorry but here’s the Streetview. You could end the walk here at Ha-Bima Square as we did or double back down Ahad Ha’am Street which runs parallel to Rothschild Boulevard.

And that’s it for the walks. There were of course many other nice Bauhaus buildings dotted around that I stumbled across on my frequent detours.

The blocks below seem more Deco than Bauhaus to me due to all the straight lines.

As the White City is a conservation area, any new buildings have to fit in so it was also interesting to see so many reinterpretations of Bauhaus, which I guess could be called Bauhaus Revival.

Even more architecture in my coming posts on Eclectic Style and Postmodern Architecture!

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