Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tel Aviv Bauhaus

Tel Aviv is on my mind right now as my daughter is enlisting in the Israeli Defense Forces today. When this post appears, she is already in her uniform.

I've shared the experience of living with air raids in Tel Aviv this summer, but I haven't yet shared some of the nicer aspects of the "White City," such as the unique Bauhaus architecture, which is where the term "White City" comes from.

With me being an architecture buff, our first order of business during my stay in Tel Aviv, after dealing with all the army paperwork, was taking a Bauhaus walking tour. They are only offered on Fridays by the Bauhaus Center, which was a few blocks from the apartment building where we were staying, which was also a Bauhaus building.

Bauhaus building where we were staying: classic blazing
white plaster siding, rounded corners and rounded balconies,
and a "steampipe" central staircase

When I booked that apartment, I thought it would be cool to stay in a Bauhaus building, and it was, but given that it was built in the 1930s, it also has some issues, such as no bomb shelter (which turned out to matter a whole lot this summer!), and old wiring, which also mattered a lot as the fuse on one of our air conditioners was blowing all the time. Not fun when it's 100F outside...

The first few buildings one comes to on the tour feature those ship-like qualities characteristic of Bauhaus buildings, bulls eye windows, funky slim white railing balconies, central staircases similar to a steamship's central smoke stack. Sadly, they are also characteristically in bad repair, as now, with the Bauhaus district being a World Heritage UNESCO site, it has become prohibitively expensive for owners to restore the buildings.

Our tour guide said that if you ask Tel Aviv residents what Bauhaus buildings are, they will say, "those with the round balconies." They are not wrong about that.

However, Bauhaus buildings also feature stark geometric shapes, such as this window column. 

Some are beautifully restored, such as this one, but we were also told that the preservation prescriptions sometimes create ridiculous situations. Here the original plaster had to be used, imported from Italy because back in the 1930s/40s immigrants used whatever materials they could bring to build, but that plaster was not suitable for the climate and promptly fell off after a year, just like it had back in the day.

On the very same street stands this Bauhaus building in complete disrepair as no one is willing to foot the bill for its restoration. It's a photographer's dream, though, with all that rich decaying detail.

Dizengoff Square, one of the central spots in the city is surrounded by Bauhaus buildings that have been lovingly restored, such as this one, which now houses the Hotel Cinema. On Fridays, an open air market takes place on Dizengoff Square where hip fashion designers sell their wares. Lots of colors and lots of skirts and dresses; Israeli women typically are not seen in shorts. 

Right next to the Hotel Cinema, a fun sculpture installation: a conversation across two Bauhaus balconies.


  1. I do like that architectural style!

  2. Thank you for the vicarious architectural tour! I learned something new.

  3. Annette, I am thinking about your daughter and thanking you for all of your commentary about and photos of Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv.

  4. Some of the buildings remind me of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

    1. Barbara, thanks for your concern. I'm glad you liked the Tel Aviv Bauhaus "tour" - you are right in that the Guggenheim bears some similarity. The Bauhaus architects in the U.S. (mainly Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius) espoused a starker style, square and rectangular, rather than curved.

  5. Interesting about the plaster. I would never have thought about it. But making it too expensive to repair is also nuts.

    1. Bauhaus buildings were often constructed with materials German Jewish refugees brought with them. As they weren't allowed to take money out of Nazi Germany they bought building materials with their assets and brought those. Thus plaster typical of German buildings is often seen on Bauhaus buildings, but it didn't hold up well to the Mediterranean climate.