TEL AVIV – Nestled in the streets of downtown Tel Aviv stands a modernist architectural gem known as the White City: one of the largest concentrations of around 4,000 buildings created in the renowned 1930s Bauhaus style.
German architect Walter Gropius founded the Staatliche Bauhaus school of art, architecture and design in the city of Weimar in 1919, from where the emblematic architectural movement known as the International Style was developed.
“The White City of Tel Aviv can be seen as an outstanding example on a large scale of the innovative town-planning ideas of the first part of the 20th century,” the United Nations explained on its UNESCO website.
“The architecture is a synthetic representation of some of the most significant trends of Modern Movement in architecture, as it developed in Europe,” the UN added. “The White City is also an outstanding example of the implementation of these trends taking into account local cultural traditions and climatic conditions.”
Bauhaus, literally translated as “building house,” represented one of the most important styles in architecture between 1920 and 1930 at a time when the modernist art movement had gripped the western world.
The style, which quickly spread across Europe after World War I (1914-18) becoming fairly dominant, was characterized by a simple and functional design language that enabled quick and relatively cheap but high-quality construction.
The rise of the Nazi Regime in 1933 forced the school to close, leading many graduates of the art school to emigrate from Europe.
Among the Bauhaus graduates were several Jewish architects including Arieh Sharon, Shmuel Mestechkin, Munio Gitai-Weinraub and Shlomo Bernstein who moved to Palestine and helped the Jewish community to shape and build the future state of Israel.
The boom of Jewish migrants arriving from Europe created a rapid growth of International Style buildings mainly in Tel Aviv, the main Hebrew city and cultural center for Jews in present-day Israel, however, the modernist style was forced to adapt to the extreme climate of the city.
The Bauhaus buildings adopted a distinct Israeli interpretation of the International Style with bleached facades to reflect the heat and recessed windows, instead of the European vast glassed areas, in order to keep the buildings cool and reduce glare.
An innovative design emerged that placed buildings on pillars creating a funnel through which air could travel beneath the structure cooling the building above it.
The myriad ways in which the application of the International Style evolved in the Israeli city were indicative of one of the most central elements of the Bauhaus artistic movement: functionality.
The UN declared the Israeli White City a World Cultural Heritage site in 2003 triggering a renewed interest in the modernist complex.
After a great many of the buildings were left to deteriorate, the Tel Aviv municipal government passed a law in 2009 to refurbish some 1,000 houses.
The German government penned an agreement with Tel Aviv in 2015 to invest 2.8 million euros ($3.21 million) in the city with the aim of preserving the White City.
The year 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus school and as such the Bauhaus Association is set to celebrate the centenary worldwide with numerous exhibitions, events, research projects and more under the motto “Rethinking the World.”