As Bauhaus marks 100 years, Tel Aviv’s White City stands tall

The area is the world’s leading repository of the modernist style that favoured a functional aesthetic
While many in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv start the weekend at a sidewalk cafe, there is a small group of visitors walking the streets in search of Bauhaus buildings. Practitioners of the minimalist architectural movement, founded in Germany a century ago, were among European Jews who fled to British-ruled Palestine when the Nazis took power. Today Tel Aviv is a leading repository of the modernist style that celebrates its 100th year in 2019. Bauhaus and its variations are prominent among the 4,000 buildings which make up what is known as Tel Aviv’s White City, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The name comes from the white-painted facades, which together with rounded balconies epitomise the Bauhaus style. The Bauhaus design school was founded in Weimar, Germany, by Walter Gropius in April 1919, exactly a decade after Tel Aviv was born as a small seaside village on sand dunes near the ancient Mediterranean port of Jaffa. In a break with the past it favoured a functional aesthetic and the use of glass, steel or concrete. On the streets of Tel Aviv, a group of about 30 from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden were on a walking tour organised by the Bauhaus Centre, which is headed by co-founder Micha Gross. The Swiss psychologist and architecture enthusiast said that no other city in the world has a larger collection of Bauhaus buildings than Tel Aviv. UNESCO says that the master development plan was the work of Britain’s Sir Patrick Geddes, a leading modernist. “Tel Aviv is his only large-scale urban realisation,” its World Heritage website says. The first stop on the Bauhaus Centre tour was Shulamit Square, just off Tel Aviv’s central Dizengoff Street. “Maintaining and restoring these buildings is complex,” says Gross, who explains that it takes between eight to 10 years to renovate a building. Most of these 1930s buildings are in private hands and restoring them depends on the goodwill of their owners, who get no public funding for the projects. Architect Sharon Golan Yaron is content manager of the White City Centre, set up in 2015 by the Tel Aviv city council and the German government to “preserve the heritage of the White City”. She says that while the Bauhaus influence is notable, other architectural styles have shaped Tel Aviv.
Iconic Swiss-born modernist Le Corbusier in particular left his mark, she says, adding that rather than using Bauhaus as a blanket term it would be more accurate to describe Tel Aviv’s architectural heritage as “international”.

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