Tel Aviv Architecture + Design
In the winter of 2014-2015, I took a two week trip to Israel where I participated in the program Livnot U'Lehibanot, a Hebrew term that translates as "To Build and Be Built." This program is based in the historic town of Tzfat in Northern Israel and offers an integrated experience of volunteer work, hiking, and community building. During this trip, I helped construct stairs for a home for trouble teens, engaged with residents at a retirement facility, and hiked throughout Northern Israel. While the majority of my time was spent in Tzfat, I also ventured out on my own to explore other regions of the country. Architecturally, one of the most significant places I visited was the city of Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv, or Tel Aviv-Yafo, was founded in 1909 and is currently the second most populated city in Israel. Known for its financial presence and vibrant nightlife, one often overlooked aspect of the city is its architecture. Amid the hustle and bustle of this sprawling metropolis sits an area designated as the “White City.” This term refers to a portion of about 4,000 buildings that were constructed in the 1930s in a unique form of the Bauhaus building style.
Originating as a German art institution, founded by Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus school integrated traditional curriculum with a unique blend of fine arts and modern design principles. This academic style later evolved to become a full-on movement that placed an emphasis on Modernist concepts and techniques. The Bauhaus movement was significant in architectural development and remains attributed as one of the most influential components of modern design. So how does this European-based design process correlate to Israel?
Following the 1930s Nazi invasion of Germany, many German Jewish architects and Bauhaus students fled Europe and resided in Israel, bringing their artistic talents and training. This influx of European culture led to an evolution of the Bauhaus style by creating an architectural fusion of Modernist principles and the Mediterranean climate.
Modernism, as a whole, represented breaking away from traditional views and ways of interacting with the world. While these characteristics were portrayed internationally through many facets, architecture was one of the most common threads. This time period proved to be significant in the development of apartment buildings and other urban complexes and Tel Aviv was no exception. However, dilemmas posed by the Mediterranean climate forced the “traditional” European Modernist style to adapt to its surroundings. Considering the brutal summers with high temperatures and harsh sunlight, it was crucial that these residential buildings be constructed to withstand such factors. One of the most notable approaches was the use of white paint as a reflective surface (hence the name "White City"). Other techniques included replacing large windows with smaller recessed glazing, to minimize heat transfer and glare, and replacing sloped roofs with flat ones to develop roof-top gathering spaces. Buildings were also raised above ground on pillars, creating play areas below and allowing wind to blow through voids and cool the apartments.
However, despite these various building initiatives, the standard concrete used throughout projects remained ineffective at cooling apartments during the unbearable, hot summer days. As houses and apartments became so uncomfortable this time of year, residents began to utilize the city and neighborhoods around them. This lead to a more social, communal aspect of the city with residents spending more time outdoors and meeting at coffee shops, playgrounds, restaurants, and the sea. It has been speculated that these developments contributed to the friendly, communal lifestyle still prevalent in Israeli society and culture today.