Travel Photography: Bauhaus Architecture in Tel Aviv

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Tel Aviv is well known for its large and unique collection of Bauhaus style houses. What are they and how do you find them?

A few years ago, during a visit to Germany, I asked a local friend there about the The Bauhaus Archive Museum in Berlin.

His response was: “You live in a Bauhaus museum!”

Official numbers don’t lie – Tel Aviv has the greatest number of Bauhaus buildings  in the world.

In 2003 UNESCO recognised the centre of Tel Aviv as a World Heritage Site, nicknamed the “White City”, for its massive collection of Bauhaus and Eclectic Style buildings.

So what’s it all about?

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Tel Aviv Bauhaus Architecture

Some Background on the International Style in Tel Aviv

Bauhaus is the name of a school of art and design founded in 1919 in Germany.

The architectural style that came out of that school and that is so typical of Tel Aviv is officially called the International Style, but it’s commonly referred to simply as Bauhaus.

Many Bauhaus architects immigrated from Germany to Tel Aviv in the early 1930s, when life became harder for Jews over there.

Tel Aviv in those years was a very young town, a tiny place in constant development . In other words, it was the perfect playground for those architects to experiment with the new style.

They shaped the city according to their modernist vision and built and designed in a very practical way to match the local climate and to make the houses comfortable to live in.

How to Spot a Bauhaus Building – Typical Elements

Bauhaus style houses have very clean lines, clear shapes and  hardly any decorations. The focus was on practicality in the spirit of “less is more”.

This house is a good example of the clear cut lines. It’s on Rothschild Bldv. 85, designed by Carl Rubin as a residential house.

Bauhaus style clean line and clear bu shapes
Bauhaus style clean line and clear bu shapes

The typical Tel Avivian Bauhaus buildings are mostly white, due to the hot weather.

Ehrlich House - Bauhaus building in Tel Aviv
Ehrlich House – Bauhaus building in Tel Aviv

Bauhaus buildings were mostly box-shaped with a flat roof, because a flat roof can have many uses in a warm climate: Sleeping on the roof, planting gardens, hanging your laundry or socialising.

That was the practical approach of Bauhaus architects.

Bauhaus building have flat roofs
Bauhaus building have flat roofs

Bauhaus buildings are famous for their balconies. These are big and wide and pop into the street a bit like open drawers.

They often have rounded corners , another typical element of this style, as are combinations of geometric shapes.

The balconies are also a sign of practicality – back when those buildings were built, when there was no air conditioning, you could spend hot day on the balcony enjoying some sea breeze.

Ehrlich House, 79 Herzl Street, was designed by Ze’ev Haller in 1933 and preserved in recent years, is a lovely example of rounded corners.

Ehrlich House - Bauhaus building in Tel Aviv
The rounded corner, Bauhaus style

You can see some more combinations of shapes in Rubinsky House on 65 Shenkin Street,  a residential house by Abraham Markusfeld from 1935, also preserved.

It stands at a street corner and  there are different elements on each side of the building.

Rubinsky House, typical Bauhaus architecture
Rubinsky House, typical Bauhaus architecture

Bruno House on 3 Strauss Street is another preserved house, originally by Ze’ev Haller from 1933.

This is one of my favourite residential buildings thanks to its lovely balconies with rounded corners and curving lines that go all around the building.

Bruno House in Tel Aviv - Bauhaus style architecture
Bruno House with its rounded corners
Bruno House in Tel Aviv - Bauhaus style architecture
Bruno House – Rounded balconies

It’s worth going up the steps and around the building to see it from different angles.

Bruno House in Tel Aviv - Bauhaus style architecture
Go around Bruno House to see the entire design

Another element you’ll see quite often in Bauhaus architecture is a line of small windows all along the stairwell of the building.

They’re  called “Thermometers” in Bauhaus slang, bringing in air and light to all the floors of the building.

Thermometer windows Bauhaus building
Thermometer windows in a Bauhaus building in Tel Aviv. Source:  Sambach  CC BY-SA 2.5 

The Preservation Project

Now that you know how to spot a Bauhaus building, all you have to do is look up! Tel Aviv is practically an open-air museum of architecture.

But you may not see this “white city” right away…

The climate in Tel Aviv is hot and humid, which means that many walls and facades are in very poor condition after years of neglect.

To be honest, growing up in Tel Aviv I never found its architecture impressive in any way.

The city grew rapidly in the 1950s, which resulted in many buildings looking exactly the same, and not particularly interesting.

But the real architectural gems of the 1920s and 30s are still there. For many years they were neglected and lost their charm, but in recent years,  a much-needed renovation and preservation project has been taking place.

Some of the old buildings were given back their long lost beauty. There are many more to be restored.

This project is taking time and many millions of dollars, but you can already see some of its beautiful outcomes.

Walking around the city centre of Tel Aviv, you will see many tall office towers and skyscrapers with glass windows reflecting the sky. When you see one of those, look around it to find an old preserved house nearby.

It’s often the deal struck between developers and the city: in order to build the towers, they have to do some preservation work.

Old preserved house next to a new skyscraper
Old and new in Tel Aviv

Another similar arrangement is where the old houses are not just preserved, but also extended. Additional flats are built, sometimes a penthouse.

Given the ridiculously high prices of real estate in Tel Aviv, the developers can cover the cost of the preservation thanks to those extensions.

How to find out more about the White City

There are literally thousands of Bauhaus houses in Tel Aviv and a lot to be discovered.

To learn more about the “white city” and the history of Tel Aviv you can take a free guided tour every Saturday at 11 am from Rothschild Blvd. 46.

The Bauhaus Center has a wealth of information, exhibitions, tours and souvenirs.

The White City Center is a collaborative project run by the City of Tel Aviv and the German government for the preservation of the International Style.

WHAT NEXT?

  • Visiting Tel Aviv soon? Let me make a custom itinerary for you!
  • More posts about architecture from different cities
  • Read more of my posts about Tel Aviv
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Tel Aviv Bauhaus Architecture

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