Sunday 11 June 2017

Tel Aviv - Five Favourite Bauhaus Buildings

There are approximately 4000 Bauhaus buildings in Tel-Aviv. Most of them were built during the 1930's and many were the work of Jewish architects forced from Europe due to the rise of fascism in Germany and Austria and growing anti-semitism across the continent. These white concrete structures led to Tel-Aviv becoming known as the White City and to its securing UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2003.

Over several decades many of the buildings have fallen into a poor state of repair but in recent years a significant amount of restoration has taken place, precipitated to a large extent by the UNESCO award but also by the commitment of architects and activists and the growing interest of the city's inhabitants. It was this built heritage that first drew me to Tel-Aviv and although I have been visiting for many years now, my fascination with the architecture (and the city generally) has not diminished. I have photographed hundreds of Bauhaus buildings over the years and have written about several of them previously. This is the first in a series of posts highlighting some of my favourites. 

Shimon Levi House, 56 Lavandah
Lavandah Street is in the extreme east of the city, some distance from the commercial heart and close to the run down area around the main bus station. It is not the most obvious place to look for architectural treasures but it is where you will find the Shimon Levi House sometimes known as the ship due to its nautical appearance. Designed by Arieh Cohen and built from 1934-35 it is today somewhat stranded, surrounded by extremely busy roads. It is a long, narrow apartment block which originally stood on a sandstone hill that had to be excavated when an approach to the central bus station became necessary. This left the building on a podium supported by retaining walls.

Despite having seen better days, the house retains a striking presence on this extremely busy corner. There are several other Bauhaus buildings in the neighbourhood, one or two of which have recently been restored. It is to be hoped that the Shimon Levi house can benefit from similar help before much longer.

Former Ha'aretz Print Works, 56 Mazeh
56 Mazeh Street was built in 1934 as the print works of the Ha'aretz newspaper. Father and son architects Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin designed the building which stands in an otherwise residential street. The newspaper ceased use of the premises many years ago but the current commercial users have retained the beautiful facade with its glazed stairwell, narrow open railed balcony and steel framed windows. Originally the facade also featured the newspaper's name in stylised Hebrew lettering but this was almost certainly removed when ownership changed. A modern block, sympathetically designed, now sits behind the old print works. The Berlins designed many of Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus buildings either together or working separately. Joseph Berlin, Ze'ev's father also worked in the earlier eclectic style and examples of his work in this genre can still be seen around the city.

Poliashuk House, 1 Nahalat Binyamin
The Poliashuk House at 1 Nahalat Binyamin stands on one of Tel-Aviv's most prominent corners at the junction of Allenby and King George streets and adjacent to the Shuk HaCarmel. Built in 1934 and designed by Salomon Liakowsky and Jacob Ornstein, it was allowed to deteriorate for many years but has recently been restored, the graffiti removed and a boutique hotel opened in the upper levels. Yehuda Poliashuk, the orignal owner filled the building with 50 offices and 15 shops including the famous Naalei Pil (Elephant shoe shop) which was particularly popular with children as it gave balloons and yo-yos to its young customers. During the period of the British Mandate, it also housed the clandestine printing shop of the Etzel, which produced newspapers and flyers agitating for independence from Britain.

Following the restoration it is possible to get some idea of the original grandeur as it retains  its art deco portholes, roof top terrace and pergola and streamline design including that beautiful curved corner. The exterior is covered in beige ceramic tiles rather than the more usual concrete and there is a plaque on the Nahalat Binyamin facade, bearing the date of construction ad the architects' names. If you want to see inside you can book into the Poli House boutique hotel or perhaps just have a drink in the hotel bar. Other buildings further along Nahalat Binyamin are now being restored although the street is still a long way from its original splendour.

Jacobson's Buildings, 28 Levontin
Jacobson's Building at 28 Levontin has also been recently restored. Originally designed as an office block with shops on the ground floor, in practice it has always included residential units. Occupying a large corner site, it comprises three sections in a horseshoe shape. The southern facade has both protruding and recessed balconies whilst the corner stairwell has a fabulous semi-glazed "ladder" to admit light and complements the narrow windows on the adjacent curved wing. The doorway and the lobby have several art deco features although I have only ever been able to peep at these from the street! Designed by Emanuel Halbrecht and completed in 1937, the restoration and extension took place in 2012 under the supervision of Nitza Smuk architects. The works included increasing the number of apartments and changing their arrangement, installation of security rooms and lifts as well as the authentic restoration of the commercial elements on the ground floor.

Levontin Street lies in the once forgotten but now rediscovered and edgy, artsy Florentin neighbourhood. On my recent visit I noticed that a couple of Bauhaus buildings on the adjoining Mikveh Israel street are now being restored and that works on a Yehuda Magidovitch designed eclectic style building on Levontin itself are almost complete. Perhaps these works were stimulated by the success of Jacobson's Building.

94-96 Dizengoff
And speaking of Yehuda Magidovitch, my final choice for this post is one of his works - 94-96 Dizengoff. It is one of several structures surrounding Kikar (circle) Dizengoff - a spectacular, properly planned circle, which was constructed in the 1930's and which lies at the heart of the city. The original design proposed commercial units on the ground floor of all buildings in the circle with public functions on the first floor. The overall design displays some of Le Corbusier's principles including horizontal ribbon openings, pilotis, a smooth facade and roof gardens. Extensive works are currently being carried out to restore the original centre of the circle with grassed areas replacing a very hard and not much loved raised concrete walkway constructed in 1978.

The preservation and extension works were carried out by Bar Orian architects in 2014 and included reconstruction of the apron balconies, horizontal windows and white plaster. Two new floors were added following the original design together with a further floor, set back from the facade and not visible from the street. Several new shops have opened on the ground floor including my favourite Tel-Aviv cafe - Nahat which is small but beautiful, with great coffee, friendly staff and the best cheesecake in the city. Great architecture, coffee and cake - what else could you want?

You might also like Bauhaus Revival on Rothschild

1 comment:

  1. Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin were perfect for the Bauhaus look. Probably some of their buildings have been pulled down or changed, but the ones I have seen have looked very special.

    I am quite surprised that the council allowed the Mazeh Street building to be totally used as the print works of a giant newspaper. Little shops on the ground floor in a residential street yes; an entirely commercial building not so much.