4000 Bauhaus buildings in just one city: Tel Aviv shows a formative part of Bauhaus history in a pragmatic, unvarnished and exciting way. The “White City”, as the Israeli metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea is called today, is the reflection of a movement whose traces can be seen 100 years later.
The history of the White City
To this day, Tel Aviv is known as the “White City”, on the coast of which more than 4,000 buildings of the Bauhaus line up. Although many of the buildings, due to decades of weathering and the lack of refurbishment work, are hardly able to cope with the architecture of the time, they nevertheless paint a picture of an era characterized by modern ways of thinking. In order to fight against the slow decline of the architectural masterpieces in the Bauhaus district, a part of the population tries to create more awareness of the history of the city. Tel Aviv, which literally means “hill of spring”, is a comparatively young city founded in 1909 as the suburb of the Arab port city of Jaffa. In the thirties, when the Jews fled from Europe to Jerusalem, the population tripled in just seven years to 150,000. Today, Tel Aviv stands for a modern metropolis that is equally characterized by young people, innovative start-ups and tourists of cultural interest.
A decade of modern architecture
Parallel to the wave of immigration of the thirties in the center of Tel Aviv’s more than 4,000 buildings were constructed in accordance with the principles of modern architecture. It is less about the one special building that you must have seen during a visit to the city. Rather, the focus is on the wealth of impressive architecture, which originated in the Israeli city from 1931 to 1937. The Dessau Bauhaus and its deeply rooted teachings by German architects Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer and Erich Mendelsohn served as sources of inspiration. Immigrants like Arieh Sharon, Zeev Rechter or Richard Kauffmann wanted to bring the idea of a unity of art and craft to the Mediterranean: away from eye-catching decorations and ornaments, to objectivity and clarity. “Form follows function,” was the guiding principle of the Bauhaus movement. This resulted in light-flooded buildings designed exclusively for the health and quality of life of the residents. Symmetry was omitted as well as extravagance and opulence. Instead, the houses were characterized by a uniform construction, by clear forms and concentration on the essentials. Tel Aviv thus joined the worldview of Dessau architects: a new way of living together, away from consumption and possessions. A coexistence that treats all inhabitants equally and appreciates.
❞ Since the founding of the state in 1948, Israel has been struggling to survive; Insecurity and attacks are still part of the lifestyle in Tel Aviv. ❝
World Heritage as a bearer of hope
In 2003, the city center of Tel Aviv was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Cultural Organization, UNESCO. The award honored the charm of the metropolis, but also served as a reminder to counteract the progressive deterioration of the building. Although a lot has happened since then, two-thirds of the 4,000 Bauhaus buildings are still in need of renovation. The problem: For the professional restoration of one of the buildings about 14 million are incurred. 1 So instead of a bright white city, Tel Aviv appears in gray and ocher tones. The hot and salty air has attacked the facades; there are rusty windows everywhere and broken electrical cables that fall out of the houses into the street, while one hotel after another is built on the opposite side. Despite the real estate boom, which has been challenging the city for a few years to restructure, the historic preservation is still behind. Since the founding of the state in 1948, Israel has been struggling to survive; Insecurity and attacks are still part of the lifestyle in Tel Aviv. Full restaurants and cultural venues where residents meet, talk loud and are cheerful are still guarded by security personnel. Too big is the fear of more suicide bombers. What counts most for the residents is the here and now. And yet, there are people who have recognized the charm of the buildings; who understand how much the Bauhaus movement shapes the cultural value of the city and wants to ensure that perhaps the most significant part of the city’s history remains between all the luxury villas and boutique hotels.
© Jonas Opperskalski
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