Around the World: Touring Tel Aviv’s Extraordinary “White City” Bauhaus Architecture
Put on your walking shoes to tour the ‘White City,’ featuring the largest collection of Bauhaus buildings in the world. Actually, Bauhaus architecture is one of Tel Aviv’s most popular tourist attractions, and one of modern-day Israel’s strongest cultural ties with Germany.
In Tel Aviv, Bauhaus is really more than just a style of architecture. The design and philosophy behind it played an integral role in the development of the city, from quite early in Tel Aviv’s relatively recent but intensely fascinating history.
Tel Aviv was conceived of in 1908, as a modern ‘garden city’ that was to be built on sand dunes adjacent to Jaffa, an ancient port city. A master plan for the further expansion of Tel Aviv was commissioned by the city’s first mayor, Mier Dizengoff, and begun by the British urban planner Patrick Geddes in 1925.
Formally accepted in 1929, the blueprint for the city laid out streets and determined block size, but did not specify a particular architectural style for building construction. Expanded Tel Aviv was wide open for development.
The Bauhaus Style was introduced to the burgeoning city in the early 1930s by influential Jewish architects who were fleeing the rise of the Nazi party and anti-Semitism in Germany.
Bauhaus was actually a school of art, architecture and design which developed prominently in Germany between 1919 and 1933. One of the Bauhaus school’s tenets was the integration of art and technology, a concept that was manifested in the distinctive Bauhaus Style of architecture and design. The Bauhaus School in Germany was shut down by the Nazis in 1933.
Israel’s émigré Bauhaus architects brought their art to Tel Aviv and gave the city an indelible modernity with their distinctively designed residential, commercial and public buildings. Tel Aviv became the hub of the Bauhaus -- or International Style, as it was also called -- design movement. In Tel Aviv, the Bauhaus neighborhoods are collectively known as the ‘White City.’
Bauhaus Style utilizes primary forms, such as cubes and rectangles, and colors to create clean, modern lines without much architectural embellishment. The lines are enhanced by the deliberately augmented interplay of light and shadow.
However, the style that was imported from Europe had to be adapted to Israel’s desert climate. White and light colors were used to reflect the ambient heat. In the European Bauhaus buildings, large windows were used to let in as much light as possible, but in Tel Aviv, to protect residents from heat and glare, the windows are narrow and recessed, sometimes stretching across the façade like horizontal ribbons, sometimes placed singularly like tall, narrow, vertical asymmetrical slots.
Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus buildings have long narrow balconies, each shaded by another balcony above. The orientation of the balconies cleverly utilizes the cooling breezes that blow from the sea to the west, and the buildings were topped with flat roofs, so residents could socialize and enjoy the cool breezes of the evenings.
With these design modifications, the bright, desert-like climate of Tel Aviv makes the city the perfect setting for Bauhaus architecture, with its breezy balconies and emphasis on light and shadow.
Even today, Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus buildings look quintessentially modern. They are beautiful and elegant edifices, lining tree-shaded boulevards and side streets, with numerous pocket parks disbursed among them.
With years of wear and tear, many of the Bauhaus buildings are sorely in need of upkeep. Fortunately legislation passed in 2009 requires that in the city’s Bauhaus neighborhoods -- Tel Aviv‘s ‘White City’ -- companies engaged in construction of new buildings are required to restore a Bauhaus building that is adjacent to or near their project. To preserve the design unity of the ‘White City,’ new buildings must bear some resemblance to vintage Bauhaus structures, or loosely conform to International Style design principles.
In 2003, UNESCO proclaimed Tel Aviv's ‘White City’ a World Cultural Heritage site, further assuring the preservation of the Bauhaus buildings. Originally, some 4,000 Bauhaus buildings were constructed in Tel Aviv. Some have been destroyed. But, at present, many have been refurbished and there is an ongoing preservation and restoration program.
When visiting Tel Aviv, taking a walking tour of the White City is a must. It’s easy to ask your hotel concierge for directions, grab a guidebook and head out on your own. But it’s better to take a tour with a knowledgeable licensed guide, so you get all of the background and details about the best buildings, how they were constructed and who’s lived in them.
The best Bauhaus tours are given by Bauhaus Center guides, leaving on Friday mornings at 10 AM from the Bauhaus Center at 77 Dizengoff Street (tel. +972-3-522-0249 or email@example.com). The tour takes about two hours, including a 25 minute introductory movie. The tour costs about $25 per person, and is well worth the fee. Wear comfortable shoes and sunglasses, and slather yourself with sunscreen. And read up a bit about the Bauhaus school before setting out.
When you get back from the tour, or even if you tour the White City independently, you should visit the Bauhaus Center to see its exhibits of art and artifacts, maps, books and posters, and pick up souvenirs in the shop. The Bauhaus Center is open from Sunday to Thursday from 10 AM to 7:30 PM, and on Friday from 10 AM to 2:30 PM.
For more information about Tel Aviv’s ‘White City’ and travel to Israel, visit the Israel Ministry of Tourism Website at https://info.goisrael.com/en/. For more information about the Bauhaus Center, visit the Website at www.Bauhaus-Center.com.