Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Picture post 52 - Modernism on Massada Street

Haifa is Israel's third largest city (after Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv) and is the main centre in the north of the country. Like Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, Haifa has many modernist buildings spread throughout the city. I have written previously those in the heart of the Hadar district where there are many examples of this style, including residential and commercial premises and at least one former cinema.

37 Massada Street
37 Massada Street
A little further up Mount Carmel, Massada Street is well known for its cafes, bars and vintage shops that have sprung up over the last decade. It is also home to a collection of extremely attractive modernist buildings completed in the 1930s. Some of these treasures are difficult to see due to the mature trees in front of, or around them, and of course views of some of them are obscured by the ubiquitous wires, poles and parked cars that feature in most of my photographs below! However, it its well worth looking past these little annoyances to enjoy the architecture. I have not been able to secure details of the architects and date of construction for all of the buildings featured in this post and welcome any information that readers may have. Similarly it has proved difficult to find detailed information about the architects that I have identified so again all information is welcome! 

Perhaps the most imposing modernist structure on Massada Street is the apartment building at number 37. Completed in 1935 it was designed by David Wittmann. It is in need of some restoration but is still an striking building with its glazed "ladder"on the stairwell, art deco style portholes at the summit and rooftop terrace. The gardens in front of the building are overgrown but it is possible to walk up the steps from the pavement to the raised platform on which the house stands, look up, and appreciate this very large structure.The building's facade also features curved balconies with views over the city whilst it is also worth picking your way through the overgrown gardens to the side of the building to see more balconies, almost completely hidden from the street. Wittmann was also responsible for a modernist building at 35 Moriah Avenue further up the Carmel.

37 Massada Street
35 Massada Street
42 Massada Street
The corner building across the street, number 42 Massada was designed by the Hungarian born architect Leon Vamos and completed in 1936. Another apartment building, it too has a roof terrace and glazed stairwell but unfortunately some of the balconies have been enclosed - something that has happened to many of Israel's modernist buildings, in a bid to acquire extra internal space, often for growing families.

42 Massada Street
Number 33 is also worth a look, particularly for its glazed stairwell. Some of the panes are missing today but look up to see the impressive sweep of this cement clad and rectangular glazed section. The architect responsible for this building was Bruno Kalitzki. Born in Chemnitz in 1890, he graduated from the city's Royal Gymnasium in 1906 and went on to study architecture at the University of Charlottenburg in Berlin.  Kalitzki served in the German army during the First World War before going on to establish his own architectural practice with one Walter Naumann. He designed a couple of cinemas in Chemnitz but his promising career in Germany came to an end in 1933 following the election of the Nazis when together with his non-Jewish wife he left the country to live and work in Haifa until his death in 1953. His cinemas in Chemnitz were destroyed in bombing raids during the War.

33 Massada Street
Number 43 is a beautiful apartment building with a cafe on the ground floor and residential premises above. Unfortunately the details of the architect are unknown but it is probably safe to assume that it was built around the same time as the neighbouring modernist structures. I particularly like the two balconies, the upper one topped by a "lid". Note the red flag on the first floor balcony - its actually the flag of China!

43 Massada Street
43 Massada Street
Facing number 43 on the opposite side of the street, there is another beautiful modernist building. Dating from 1936 this apartment block is an interesting combination of styles. The small rounded balconies on the facade topped with a shelf to protect residents from the sun are modernist and many similar examples can be found in the city. The unclad stone around the communal entrance reflects the approach to modernism in Jerusalem and in other parts of Haifa and contrasts with the cement covered facade. However, the shape of the house and the taller middle section make mild references to some of the Arab architecture in the city. 

I was charmed by this building (which is again undergoing some kind of restoration) but it is a shame that those spectacularly ugly air conditioning units have been placed above the entrance, not to mention the prison style bars on the window at first floor level. On a more positive note, those curtains hanging outside the first floor windows are a photographer's dream! The exterior wall bears a plaque explaining that the house was restored in 2001 and won second prize in a competition to improve the look of the city whilst a further plaque names the "engineer" responsible for the building as one S. Rimon.

You can find out about the many other modernist buildings in Haifa from the recently published book "Carmel - The International Style in Haifa". The book is authored by Ines Sonder and features the photographs of Stephanie Kloss. You can buy a copy in most branches of Steimatzky or at Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus Center at 99 Dizengoff.

All of the buildings featured in this post are close together and can be seen in a leisurely 20 minutes visit. Massada is one of the stations on the Carmelit - Haifa's underground funicular railway and so it is easy to combine a stop here with visits to the attractions further up the Carmel or lower down the mountain in the Down Town area, German Colony or Hadar. There are also several good cafes on Massada Street where you can stop for a refuel before continuing to explore the city.

44 Massada Street
44 Massada Street

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