Tuesday 23 April 2019

Tel-Aviv Tales 3 - Beit Shimon Levi, a ship on dry land

The corner of Lavanda and HaMasgar in Tel-Aviv is not the most fashionable part of the city. Many of the buildings are in poor condition and there are few facilities. The heavy traffic on HaMasgar also makes this perhaps one of my favourite city's most polluted areas. However, it is on this corner that an iconic example of Tel-Aviv's modernist architecture stands. Beit Shimon Levi (the Shimon Levi House) was built in 1934-5. It is said that Levi himself designed the house although it is also, and perhaps more accurately, credited to architect Arieh Cohen who was responsible for a number of other buildings in the city.

The building was designed in defiance of the planning laws in place during the 1930's which restricted height to no more than three storeys. Beit Shimon Levi consists of six storeys in total - a basement, a ground floor, three further floors and a small attic at the summit - double the legislated amount. Following difficult negotiations, Levi was able to secure permission from Tel-Aviv's first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, to proceed with construction and to move his family in. Unfortunately they were not to live there for very long and moved out in 1937 due to financial difficulties. In later years the house was used by the Haganah as a look-out point during the period leading to independence and at one point it also housed a synagogue. Today it is used solely for residential purposes.

The house is affectionately referred to locally as the ship building due to its ocean liner type design, narrowing at each end and rising to a significant height with both curved and squared off balconies. These nautical references were common during the 1920's and 1930's and are classic features of Art Deco and modernist architecture. The building has protected status but looks to be in need of at least external decoration. Although not on the itinerary of most tourists a visit to this part of town is well worth it as there are two more excellent examples of Arieh Cohen's work at 26 and 28 Rosh Pina Street. He was also responsible for the more centrally located 251 Dizengoff Street.

1 comment:

  1. There was a time, perhaps in the 1990s, when money was given to renovate original buildings built by Bauhaus architects in Tel Aviv. This ship-like building would clean up beautifully.