Israel’s ages-old city, Jerusalem, is rightly famous for its warm, honey-colored limestone architecture. But its lazily hip rival, Tel Aviv, has lately begun garnering attention for a contrasting —and equally abundant — assemblage of cool and creamy Bauhaus buildings.
Erected by the hundreds as the city grew dramatically and welcomed new immigrants in the 1920s and 1930s, the city’s bright white edifices have become a hallmark, typically portrayed as glowing entrancingly under brilliant blue skies.
My visit found them often tattered and covered with graffiti. Still, I was determined to see as many as I could during my short stay.
And so, on a chilly, grey morning, I took myself over to the Bauhaus Center,
which I had heard offered an excellent self-guided audio tour.
As a light drizzle threatened to morph into something more annoying, I walked down Rothschild Boulevard, its medians filled with fountains and parks and tot lots — and, mercifully, several espresso kiosks.
I ducked under the inviting green and white striped awning offered by one and watched as the guy behind the counter methodically made his way through a teetering pile of oranges to squeeze out a fresh glass of juice for me.
After awhile, I took advantage of a break in the downpour and sped along to the Center, located on bustling Dizengoff Street. There, Michal Minsky, who also leads a walking tour on Friday mornings, elaborated on how Bauhaus had developed in town, and how it was gradually was adapted for its new setting and climate.
“The Bauhaus was very plain so it fit everyone,” she said. “The idea was not to show off: everything was new and everything was the same.”
Named for the German architecture school founded 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 emigrating to the brand new city.
Established in 1909 as a Jewish suburban utopia just outside of the old Arabic town of Yaffa, Tel Aviv provided a blank slate upon which architects could experiment.
As they built, they modified the style, tinkering with elements that had originally been established to work in a northern clime like Germany.
Windows were shrunk to combat the strong sun and angles were gently rounded, especially around the distinctive balconies, to soften the edge off of what was becoming a busy city. Those balconies expanded, so occupants could take advantage of the mild weather.
The now ubiquitous shutters were added for when the sun became too strong.
With the stage set, I embarked on the tour. When I reached the first stop, I turned on the museum’s iPod.
Lilting Hebrew music accompanied the Russian-accented narrator, who I took to calling Natasha, and I listened as she talked still more about the movement’s “socialistic principles.”
Natasha led me to an old movie theater now a hotel, to a series of workers’ flats, and to beautiful Shlomo Ha-Melekh street, lined with one treasure after another, all fronted by lush gardens of hibiscus and rose shrubs.
Spying a coffee shop at the base of a squat apartment building that struggled for recognition from behind black scrawls and overgrown weeds, I decided to take a break.
A young woman stood in the doorway and I asked her if she lived in the building. “No, but I used to live over there,” she responded, gesturing to another white building down the block.
When I asked her what it was like living in a Bauhaus building, she praised the ceiling heights, the cross ventilation, the light.
When I asked if it mattered that the building had architectural significance, she simply replied, “Of course it matters. The Bauhaus is Tel Aviv.”