A stroll through Rothschild Boulevard and along the Mediterranean Coast.  The roots of Tel Aviv.

As a German I should be biased towards the Bauhaus, the German avant-garde movement of Arts and Crafts which originated in Berlin after World War I.  However, after walking the streets of Tel Aviv, I had my doubts.

I love the Bauhaus ideas of integrating arts and crafts, of blurring the line between “high” and applied arts – artists were introduced to a variety of media at the Bauhaus regardless of their ultimate artistic goals.  I also love the idea of blurring the line between artists and students of art –  preferred by the Bauhaus was the distinction between master and apprentice.  All this related the Bauhaus as a whole to the medieval institution of the Bauhuette, the generations of crafts people whose lives were centered on the building of a cathedral.

The building of Tel Aviv in the 1930’s and the closing of the Bauhaus by the rise of the Nazis coincided and many European architects ended up here bringing with them the ideas of the Bauhaus or the International Style, as it is also known.  4000 buildings, residents and public buildings, were built within a mere decade in Tel Aviv, the largest concentration of this style anywhere in the world.  As the Bauhaus rejects the traditional, eclectic approach to architecture, building on a “white slate” such as Tel Aviv was ideal.  No historic buildings would or could compete.

Since most of these buildings (3-4 stories high) would have been white-washed, the term White City was coined for Tel Aviv, not to be confused with the White City of Chicago which refers to the temporary building complex created for the Columbian Exhibition, or World Fair of 1893.

In 2003, UNESCO world heritage status was assigned to the preservation of these buildings.

Characteristically, these buildings have bands of small windows, shaded balconies, rounded corners, and a plain façade void of any ornamentation on the exterior.  The roofs are flat and can be used for roof-top gardens.  Interiors can vary from floor to floor, an innovation made possible by new construction methods which lifted load-bearing functions from interior walls.  Pillars could hold up the floors at various points allowing for open floor plans.

All of this must have seemed fantastically modern and inspiring in the 1930’s.  Without any of the modern skyscrapers and any pre-existing old architecture, Tel Aviv must have indeed been a gleaming white city.  But walking up Rothschild Boulevard, which sports an almost uninterrupted cluster of these buildings, gives you little of that.  Instead, there is neglect, the white has faded, and the façades are crumbling.  Is this really worth preserving?

Obviously, the decision has been made that it is worth the effort.  I just wonder.  A few buildings, yes; but the entire ensemble?  The skyscrapers cannot be removed.  Tel Aviv will never be quite as white, uniform, and avant-garde as it used to be.  But perhaps, some day the glory of the Bauhaus will gleam in Tel Aviv again.   For now, Tel Aviv is a vibrant, sprawling, young, hip, and ever awake metropolis without history and with little character.  I would rather be in the dirty old streets of Old Jerusalem, if you want the truth.  But that’s just me.

Good night.


2 comments so far

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  1. You’ve got to be kidding me —it’s so transparently clear now!

  2. I agree completely – I’ll take the old streets any day over the fading white.