Tuesday 23 May 2017

Bauhaus Revival on Rothschild

Rothschild Boulevard has long been Tel-Aviv's glitziest street with it cafes, bars, restaurants and the city's most expensive real estate. You may need to be wealthy to live on his street but there is no such requirement for spending time here. Every day thousands of Tel-Avivians stroll along the lovely central pedestrianised section, sheltered from the stifling summer heat by the gorgeous jacaranda trees, stopping off at one of the several kiosks for a drink and a chat and to watch the countless dog-walkers, buggy-pushers, cyclists and skateboarders go by.

Book-ended by Habima (the national theatre) at one end and Independence Hall at the other, Rothschild has seen some of the major events in Israel's modern history and this is reflected in its architectural ensemble with examples of Eclectic and Bauhaus styles as well as some ultra modern buildings and even a little Brutalism. It is not hard to imagine how the street must have looked in the 1930's with its sparkling white modernist apartment blocks contrasting with the green of the  walkway. Over time several of these buildings deteriorated, some quite badly, but in the last few years many have been restored. I was recently back in Tel-Aviv and had the chance to see some of the results of this work.

82 Rothschild Boulevard, Josef and Ze'ev Berlin 1932.
Josef and his son Ze'ev Berlin were two of the city's most prolific architects during the 1930's. Berlin the elder worked first in the eclectic style before embracing modernism. The Berlins worked together on a number of projects including the apartment block at 82 Rothschild Boulevard.

Located on the corner of Rothschild and Mazeh Street, it is characterised by its simplicity with straight, clean lines. The corner location makes it difficult to fulfil some of the Bauhaus principles, particularly the idea of emphasising the vertical axis of a structure but nonetheless this building has a real presence. It was originally a three-storey house with two apartments per floor, flanking the stairwell and reflecting the symmetry of the building's design. The glazed facade of the stairwell sometimes called a "thermometer' is perhaps the most outstanding deature. There are also protruding balconies on the facade for the flats at the end of each wing. Designed for the Braun-Rabinsky families, construction was completed in 1932.

Significant works to the building took place in 2013 under the supervision of Bar-Orian Architects , a prestigious company that has undertaken several restoration projects. Works included full preservation of the stairwell and "thermometer", wood elements, iron works and terrazzo tiling. As with several other restoration works, the building was extended with the addition of a penthouse and a further extension of the rear. The penthouse is not visible from the street due to it being recessed whilst the rear additions do not impact on the Rothschild/ Mazeh views of the building. Whilst not everyone agrees with the addition of extra floors, there are strict rules about how such changes are implemented and of course this helps with the huge cost of carrying out sensitive restoration.

118 Rothschild Boulevard, Yitzhak Rapoport 1933. 
Number 118 was built in 1933 and designed by Yitzhak Rapoport who was also responsible for what is now the French Ambassador's House in Jaffa. Originally known as the Sarah Rapoport House, it was built as a three storey residential building for the family of Shmuel Rapoport who founded and directed the Kupat Am Bank. Shmuel was not the only notable person to have lived here as the City Mayor, Israel Rokach was also a resident from 1938 to 1959.

The building is divided into three sections. The central staircase has horizontal windows with concrete awnings that remind me of the The Shami House at 5 Frug Street. These are especially striking when viewed from the northern corner together with the "floating" balconies. on the side facing away from the Boulevard.  The balconies serve apartments in a corner of the building and are of such generous proportions that they protrude beyond the recess. The main facade which looks over Rothschild is the most austere section of the structure but still manages to catch the eye due to the framing of the roof terrace.

Restoration work took place in 2013 and was carved out by Oded Rapoport of Rapoport Architects Ltd. and son of the original architect. The front sections were completely restored although smooth plaster was used rather than the original Kratzputz or scraped plaster. The wooden elements of the windows, stairwell handrail, fence and gate were reconstructed and two and a half extra floors were added but set back far enough to preserve the original street view. A lift, security rooms and a basement were also installed.

118 Rothschild Boulevard, Yitzhak Rapoport 1933.
85 Rothschild was designed by Carl Rubin for the Sadowski family. Rubin was also responsible for number 87, next door and had spent some time working in the Berlin office of Erich Mendelsohn before coming to Tel-Aviv. Completed in 1933,  number 85 is an L-shaped building, best known for its series of balconies which are recessed into the building's volume, producing the same impact as modernist ribbon windows. The balconies on the front facade have a parapet with iron rails whilst those at rear are without rails. Rough plaster was used on the front facade with the exception of the balconies where smooth plaster adds contrast. The stairwell has one of those delightful "thermometer" glazings above the main door which is discretely tucked into the corner of the recessed part of the building.

Bar Orian Architects also restored this building, in 2013. The work included reconstruction of doors, windows and the wood shutters and the thermometer was fully restored. Like many other Bauhaus buildings in Tel-Aviv a number of the balconies had been closed to acquire additional internal space. All of the closed balconies were re-opened (hooray!), restoring the original appearance. The impact of this change is significant as anyone who has spent time walking the streets of Tel-Aviv will know. Whilst understanding the need for more living space, the impact of different methods of closing off balconies serves primarily to destroy the overall look of a building and to transform a thing of beauty into a mess. The works included the addition of three floors, one designed in the same way as the original building and two set back, not visible from the street.

85 Rothschild Boulevard, Carl Rubin 1933.
85 Rothschild Boulevard, Carl Rubin 1933.
79 Rothschild Boulevard, Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin 1929.
Bar Orian also undertook restoration work at the adjacent buildings of 79 and 81 Rothschild in 2009. The two apartment blocks are very different to each other, 79 having been designed by the Berlin father and son team and completed in 1929 whilst 81 was the work of Moshe Czerner and completed in 1931. Interestingly, Czerner like the elder Berlin had also originally worked in the eclectic style before moving to modernism.

Number 81, the Cohen House, on the junction of Rothschild and Balfour has rounded balconies that emphasise the corner location and together with the windows, accentuate the building's horizontal lines. Number 79 is symmetrical with square balconies. The central stairwell divides the building in two, with square windows on each side  the symmetry. The restoration included the reopening of closed balconies in both buildings, the reconstruction of damaged elements and adding three new floors. There is also an extension at the rear that connects the two. 

81 Rothschild Boulevard, Moshe Czerner 1931.
117 Rothschild Boulevard, Yitzhak Rapoport 1933.
Finally, 117 Rothschild, another Yitzhak Rapoport building is currently under restoration and already looks stunning with its crisp white exterior contrasting beautifully with Tel-Aviv's bright blue summer sky. Occupying a large plot, number 117 boasts not one but two "thermometer" stairwells and a series of sharp and rounded corners on each of the building's sections. Nahoum Cohen notes in his   Bauhaus Tel-Aviv book published in 2003, that "Although the people living on Rothschild Boulevard...are wealthier than the average, the upkeep of the place is not as good as one might hope as the paint and some of the stucco have deteriorated...". Well it looks like that is being taken care of now and I look forward to seeing the work completed on my next visit.

It is wonderful to see the city's built heritage being cared for - and not just the Bauhaus treasures as many of the earlier eclectic buildings are also being restored to their former glory. You can find lots more information, books, posters and even go on a guided tour of some of Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus buildings by visiting the Bauhaus Center in its new home at 77 Dizengoff or by going to their website.  If you are specifically interested in restoration you can buy copies of Preservation and Renewal: Bauhaus and International Style Buildings in Tel-Aviv.

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117 Rothschild Boulevard, Yitzhak Rapoport, 1933.

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