Tel Aviv: How to get there, where to stay, what to do and more
On a recent visit, however, I found them often tattered and covered with graffiti and, on one afternoon, doused by a rare but quite torrential spell of weeping skies. Still, I was determined to see as many as I could during my short stay.
Named for the German architecture school founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius to advance the design principles of what would become known as the International Style, Bauhaus flourished in Tel Aviv as Jews began leaving Nazi Germany and immigrating to the brand-new city. Established in 1909 as a Jewish suburban utopia just outside the old Arab town of Jaffa, Tel Aviv provided a blank slate upon which architects could experiment.
Because the style emphasized democracy and practicality, architects used cheap and common materials, and by the 1960s, many buildings had fallen into disrepair. Besieged by more urgent political matters, the city and still-new nation didn’t especially pay attention until UNESCOrecognized the wealth of Bauhaus buildings with a conference in 1994.
And with World Heritage designation in 2003, things began to change — slowly. Owners and developers started taking literal stock of the astounding collection — and today the renovations continue. There’s even a burgeoning municipal program — just about six months old — to help building owners and developers give the structures the tender loving care they so need and deserve. About 1,000 of the 4,000 Bauhaus structures are now protected under historic preservation guidelines, a recognition that for too long the buildings have been subject to such careless updates as the addition of stories and the enclosure of balconies.
My first look at these buildings came during a general architectural walk guided by Iddo Katz, an archaeologist with a clear love of the city. That day, the sky shone a crystalline blue and the sun beat down benignly. Bougainvillea bloomed, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the city’s copious palm trees danced a little in the breeze.
Our small group met outside my nondescript hotel, one of several that hulk over the beach promenade. Katz pointed out a few nods to the International Style that these 1990s buildings offer: the vertical strip of “thermometer” windows that run along their sides, the notched corners, the horizontal ribbons of room windows that band the buildings.
Katz also indicated a skyscraper a few blocks away, the Shalom Tower from 1965. A rectangular slab that echoes such modernist classics as the Secretariat Building of the United Nations (designed by Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier) and the Seagram Building (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), the tower represents the height of the “ideology that was behind Tel Aviv,” Katz observed. “It says, ‘We’ve moved beyond mud and stone. We want modernism.’ ”