Rarely do architects get to reinvent a whole school of design and then actually build it: no wonder Tel Aviv attracts Bauhaus fans worldwide.
When Tel Aviv was founded in 1909, city planners already thought their brand new city deserved a distinctive architecture. In the 1930s, German architecture graduates arrived with just the thing: the latest Modernist styles they’d been prevented from practising by Nazi persecution and the closure of the Bauhaus schools.
The result was a profusion of Bauhaus, with the right credentials for Tel Aviv: those clean lines offered a clean break from old European grandeur—and it was affordable for a fledgling city. Experimentation let architects introduce innovations like vents to let fresh air into stuffy apartment stairwells. Many Bauhaus blocks in Tel Aviv have flat roofs for sleeping on in summer, and balconies are everywhere, for catching the breeze and chatting with neighbours.
Start at the beachside White City district, where the city’s 4,000 or so Bauhaus buildings are concentrated not far from Hotel Indigo Tel Aviv – Diamond District. Declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2003, here’s where you’ll find some of the best-preserved examples of Bauhaus in Tel Aviv.
The Bruno House, on 3 Strauss Street, is a brilliant showcase, with sinuous balconies that almost shimmer in the heat. Its now trendy apartments were originally designed to house teachers from a school opposite.
On 82 Rothschild Boulevard, the Braun-Rabinsky House stands out for its razor-sharp lines and a thermometer-like glass spine that’s dramatically illuminated at night. On 12 Lilienblum Street, the double-winged Avraham Soskin House, built in 1934, has a classic wraparound balcony matched by a smaller one protruding from the side like a crow’s nest. Now turned into flats, it was once home to one of the city’s most famous photographers and documenters of Tel Aviv’s early development.
Two other Bauhaus buildings are a lesson in the school’s contrasting approaches to symmetry. Where the two wings of the Dr Leon Pines House are meticulous mirror images of each other, 61 Rothschild Boulevard has a quirky asymmetrical facade and wild roof garden.
The Bauhaus Centre in Tel Aviv offers tours of White City, and there’s a Bauhaus Museum on 21 Bialik Street. More Bauhaus classics are being restored but many, like much of the city, have a faded, careworn look.
It’s tempting to think that Tel Aviv’s cafe culture owes something to its Bauhaus aesthetic too. Although emigré architects tried to adapt European Bauhaus principles to the Middle Eastern climate, these buildings could still be stiflingly hot at night.
At the time the solution was to spend time in cafes with terraces to escape to cooler air. Today, air conditioning helps Tel Aviv is still a cafe city, where locals treat their favourite café like a second home.
Check out Café Bialik on 2 Bialik St gives a taste of Tel Aviv old and new, with its historic building and mover-and-shaker crowd. Laid-back and cosy, Lilush Panini on 73 Frishman St is a quintessential Tel Aviv neighbourhood café where everyone is always welcomed.