What I Knew About Bauhaus Before Coming to Tel Aviv
When our friends at the Bauhaus Center in Tel Aviv offered us a self guided walking tour, I had three associations with the name Bauhaus, and two of them had nothing to do with architecture.
One was the band, and the other is a brewery in Minneapolis where I spent a sunny afternoon sipping beer with a friend before she got married last fall. Both the band and the brewery are memorable in their own right, but neither prepared me for the education I was about to receive courtesy of the Bauhaus Center.
The first thing you do when you enter the Bauhaus Center on Dizengoff street is to start touching all the merchandise in the boutique. Okay, well maybe that’s just me, but I wasn’t expecting so many well-designed Bauhaus related items for sale. So maybe for you the first thing you do is to go downstairs (through the ever changing gallery) to watch a short video on the history of the Bauhaus movement in Tel Aviv.
What is Bauhaus Anyway?
Bauhaus was a school in Germany that intended to incorporate all the arts into one discipline. Originally the school taught all of the arts, including ceramics. Some say it was more of a philosophy than anything, and it was even a few years before architecture became a dominant focus of the school. Bauhaus architecture as we know it is characterized by favoring space over mass, functionality over ornamentation and asymmetry over symmetry.
The video moves quickly and tosses out many names of people involved in the Bauhaus movement. If you have a base of knowledge of the Bauhaus movement and how Tel Aviv came to have roughly 4,000 examples of homes and apartments and shops designed in the “international style” you may be bored. If are a novice like me, you’ll find it quite interesting.
How Bauhaus Architecture Came to Tel Aviv
The short version is this: the Bauhaus school of architecture was founded in Germany in 1919 by Walter Gropius and was shut down by the Nazis in 1933. Many of the teachers and students left Germany, and many wound up in Tel Aviv where they continued to work.
I was surprised to find that Tel Aviv has the largest number of buildings in this style of any city in the world. So many, that it’s commonly known as the “White City”. In 2003 UNESCO proclaimed Tel Aviv as a World Cultural Heritage Site for it's “outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century.”
To The Walking Tour!
Once you are done watching the video, you can get your audio guide and hit the street. If you are in Tel Aviv on a Friday, you will get a personal tour, but sadly our travel dates didn’t allow this. The walking tour took us about an hour and a half, and that includes us getting a little lost despite the well-detailed map that accompanies it. Give me a break. There was construction!
The audio tour will take you through about 12 buildings designed in the international style and offers commentary and history on each of them. The streets are narrow, so it’s somewhat difficult to get good images of these magnificent buildings.
Restoration of Bauhaus Architecture in Tel Aviv
Some of the buildings seem run down and not well maintained. The Bauhaus Center is actively working with the city of Tel Aviv and UNESCO to help preserve and maintain the most important of these structures, but sadly many have been lost, demolished or remodeled without regard for preservation. There are strict guidelines about preservation of these buildings and restoration is expensive; often the owners can't afford to do the work. One way they are able to fund the restoration is by adding on to the building and selling the newly constructed unit(s). In order to do this, however, the new unit(s) must not change the line of the building from the street. So, oftentimes you will not notice the alteration unless you walk around the side and see the surprise!
Images of Bauhaus Architecture in Tel Aviv
How is Bauhaus Architecture Different in Tel Aviv?
The climate in Tel Aviv made some changes to the traditional Bauhaus style necessary. First is the balcony. You may notice that they have strips cut out of them to allow airflow. Another significant difference is the flat roof and rooftop garden. These were not possible in colder climates, but perfect for outdoor life in Tel Aviv. Many of the buildings have a bit of decorative flare that wasn't strictly prescribed by the European school of Bauhaus. Reportedly, those that fled Germany after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus school were not allowed to bring money. So they used it to buy building materials such as tiles and windows, and brought those instead. It's difficult to imagine fleeing in a hurry but stopping by the tile shop first, but hey. that's the story.
The walking tour brings you back full circle to the Bauhaus Center, where you can buy some postcards and chat with the friendly experts working there.
If you are a fan of Bauhaus architecture, or architecture in general, do yourself a favor and find yourself at the Bauhaus Center on your next visit to Tel Aviv. You won’t regret it.
Special thanks to Dr. Micha Gross (co-founder of the Bauhaus Center) for sponsoring this blog post. While our tour was free, our thoughts and opinions remain our own.