Thursday 31 March 2016

Modernism restored - Poliashuk and Recanati, Tel-Aviv architectural icons

Tel Aviv is home to the world's greatest collection of modernist buildings with over 4,000 examples of the style having been constructed during the late 1920's and throughout the 1930's. They were designed primarily by Jewish architects driven out of Europe in the lead up to the Second World War with such luminaries as Arieh Sharon, Dov Carmi, Genia Averbuch, Ze'ev Haller and Arieh Cohen all leaving their mark on the city. This unique built heritage led to the city securing UNESCO World Heritage site status in 2003, which in turn helped provide both a measure of protection and the impetus for restoration and preservation.

On my recent visit to Tel Aviv I was delighted to see so many buildings both in the modernist/ Bauhaus styles and also the earlier eclectic style either under restoration or with work already completed. Two of my favourite buildings are looking especially grand having benefited from restoration and so reassuming much of their original glory. Both occupy corner locations at busy junctions and both were designed by the same architectural team - Solomon Liaskowksy and Jacov Ornstein. 

The Poliashuk House at number 1 Nachalat Binyamin Street holds a commanding position at the junction with Allenby. Both were formerly very grand streets and this spot remains one of the focal points of Tel-Aviv due to the weekend art and crafts market, the Shuk Ha-Carmel with its fresh fruit, vegetables and spices (and lots more) and the lively cafe and bar scene in the area. For many years the house was in a poor state, covered in graffiti, its original sparkle lost to decades of grime. Construction was completed in 1934 with offices on the upper floors and retail below. Owner Yehdua Polashiuk filled the building with 50 offices and 15 shops including the former Naalei Pil (Elephant shoe shop) on the corner. The shop had legendary status amongst the city's children as it was the first store in Tel-Aviv to give balloons and yo-yo's to its young customers. In addition to this, the building housed a clandestine Etzel printing press, producing flyers and papers agitating for independence during the period of the British Mandate

Cleaned of the dirt of decades, it is now possible to get an idea of its original grandeur with its roof top terrace and pergola, art deco portholes, rectangular balconies, streamline design and beautiful corner curve. The exterior walls are covered in beige ceramic tiles, differing from the usual plaster cladding of the period and adding further interest to the design. Unfortunately, some of the original features from the ground floor shops have gone and that wonderful corner is now home to a burger bar, but I suppose you can't have everything. There are several other modernist and eclectic style buildings in Nachalat Binyamin, including the Arieh Cohen designed Shaltiel House at number 3, completed in 1935 and the Dekel House at number 8 designed in the eclectic style by Yehoshua Zvi Tabachnik, completed in 1922. Number 5, opposite, also restored is another of Tabachnik's works.

Architects Liaskowsky and Ornstein worked together on a number of projects. Liaskowsky was born in Zurich and studied at the Technikum in Winterthur, Switzerland, albeit without graduating. He then spent time in both Belgium and Paris, working and studying before winning a commission to build a synagogue in Zurich in 1929. The synagogue was never completed as the Zurich Jewish community, unnerved by the rise of the right in neighbouring Germany, abandoned the project and Liaskowsky left for Eretz Israel. His visit was meant to be brief but having met Jacov Ornstein in Jaffa and being offered a partnership in Ornstein's engineering office, he decided to stay. They then completed several projects together before the Arab riots of 1938 led to Liaskowsky moving on again, this time to Argentina where he had relatives and where he went on to design residential, commercial and industrial buildings as well as to complete projects for the Jewish community.

Ornstein was born in Vienna where he studied construction and civil engineering, graduating in 1908. He served in the Austrian army in the First World War before leaving for Eretz Israel in 1920 where his early projects were primarily residential buildings in the eclectic style before moving on to modernism. The British appointed him chief engineer in charge of building Allenby Street where he developed the single paving style that is still in use today. Ornstein married Margalit Oppenheimer, a well-known ballerina and dance teacher and designed a ballet studio on the top floor of the final family home at 42 Ahad Ha'am Street. Their two daughters, Yehudi and Shoshana went on to become successful dancers in the 1950's and 1960's. 

The Recanati House at 35 Menachem Begin Road (formerly Petah Tikveh Road) was completed in 1935 at the request of businessman Leon Recanati. It was designed on a trapezoid plot with residential quarters on the upper level and retail on the ground floor facing the main road. The building is striking for its rounded balconies that sit underneath rounded awnings on Menachem Begin Road, whilst the Mazeh Street side sports square balconies set more widely apart.  The building is very long and with just three stories, the balconies stand out even more than they would on a taller structure. Having fallen into poor condition over several decades, the house was restored by Bar Orian Architects in 2000. The restoration included works to the plaster balconies and wooden windows, whilst the garden in the rear inner courtyard was also reconstructed. Works to a number of buildings have included the addition of extra, discrete storeys but the Recanati House has maintained its original size which in turn has meant it retaining the unique impact of those balconies.

A little further away from the centre of things than the Poliashuk House, the Recanati building is just a short step from my favourite Tel-Aviv building, number 56 Mazeh, designed by Ze'ev Berlin and completed in 1932 as the original printing office for the Ha'aretz newspaper. Liaskowsky and Ornstein worked together for just four short years. Within that time they provided Tel-Aviv with two of its most iconic modernist buildings. What might they have achieved together had Liaskowsky remained in Israel?

You might also like Picture Post 22 - 5 Frug Street, Tel-Aviv

Friday 18 March 2016

Picture Post 51 - The Bazoza House, beautifully restored Tel-Aviv Bauhaus

I have walked along Tel Aviv's HaNevi'im Street countless times on my way to the Museum of Art, the Cameri Theatre and the Opera House. How can it be that until this week I haven't noticed number 1 Shimshon HaGibor which stands on the corner where that street meets HaNevi'im? Both street names have biblical origins - HaNevi'im means the Prophets, whilst Shimshon HaGibor might be better known to some readers as Samson of Samson and Delilah fame. HaGibor means hero. Well there are a few heroes linked to the beautiful building that stands on this spot - original architects Avraham Berger and Yitzhak Mandelbaum and also Nitza Smuk Architects who were responsible for the building's restoration in 2011.

Built for the Bazoza family and completed in 1935, this three storied building is one of several that Berger and Mandelbaum designed and built during the 1930's. The facade includes a variety of balconies, rectangular and rounded, a range of roof levels, a glazed stairwell and of course, that delicious curve on the junction of the two streets. The rounded balconies on the Shimshon HaGibor end add a touch of drama, protruding from the side of the block and contrasting sharply with their squared-off neighbors. The facade is clad in washed plaster known as waschputz and this was renewed during the 2011 restoration. 

This block benefits from protected building status and was therefore identified for strict preservation. This means that the facade we see today is what the original residents saw back in 1935 with no compromises such as additional floors or other extensions that feature in some Tel Aviv restorations. However, some internal changes were made including the addition of a lift and amendments to the way the apartments are divided. I have not been able to see inside but understand that extensive reconstruction of some of the original decorative features was also carried out, including mosaic surfaces in the stairwells, iron handrails and wooden entrance doors. 

The Szmuk practice that restored the building are specialists in working on heritage buildings. Nita Szmuk was heavily involved in helping Tel-Aviv secure World Heritage status for its Bauhaus buildings, commencing by completing an architectural survey for the municipality in 1989. She headed its conservation department from 1990 to 2002 and authored Dwelling on the Dunes, a survey of the city's Bauhaus buildings, published in 1994. Her book can be purchased at Tel Aviv's wonderful Bauhaus Center at 99 Dizengoff where you can also pick up lots of other books and information on architecture as well as booking a Bauhaus architectural tour every Friday morning.

The Bazoza House is featured in the Avner Gicelter's TLV Buildings project which captures images of Tel Aviv's built heritage, repacking them as stylized posters and postcards which can be purchased online if you can't travel to Tel Aviv to see this building for yourself!

Architect Berger was born in the Ukraine, emigrated to Eretz Israel before studying engineering in France and returning to Tel Aviv in 1935 where he went on to develop a successful professional partnership with Mandelbaum. Together they were responsible for a number of buildings in the city including the Landa House on Melchett Street and the Gerber House on Chen Boulevard. The Gerber House is a short walk from Shimshon HaGibor. Even after many years of visiting this wonderful city there are new things to see!

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Exploring Jaffa part one - The Fleamarket

I visit Tel Aviv every year. I always stay in the city centre in my favourite hotel - The Center Chic at Dizengoff Kikar, but this time I am here for a whole month and decided to do something different. I have taken a room in a beautiful old Ottoman building in Ajami, just a short walk from the centre of Jaffa and within easy reach of central Tel Aviv. Of course, I have visited Jaffa many times before, but staying here has given me the chance to really explore this fascinating and rapidly changing part of the city. 

The Fleamarket (Shuk Ha Pishpishim in Hebrew) is Jaffa's commercial heart and the area most visited by tourists and locals alike. Built in the nineteenth century on land belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church, it was once extremely luxurious with wide streets and marble walls. Some of that luxurious feel is returning as the market has changed enormously in recent years. You can find just about anything ranging from second hand clothes to brand new designer items and from cutting edge local design to pots and pans that have passed through many homes as well as eateries that cater to all tastes and wallets. A few steps from the centre of the market you will also find the studios of artists and designers, some of whom sell their work here too. The traders come in all shapes, sizes and ages too and range from a very young, very stylish crowd designing their own goods to elderly women overseeing second hand (or third, or fourth) clothes strewn on the floor for picking through.

I have some favourites. I like eating ice cream and drinking coffee in Shaked on at Yehuda Margorza 8, and I like the chicken livers and lentil dishes at Cafe Pua at Rabbi Yochana 8. On the subject of eating, you can find many cuisines in the market including Greek, Arab, Bulgarian and Italian and also fish, meat or dairy establishments. Several are non-Kosher so  seafood devotees don't need to go hungry and several now stay open on Shabbat. Everyone has their favourite eating place but Doctor Shakshuka at Beit Eshel 3 is a perennial favorite and can attract queues at busy times. Shakshuka is a traditional dish amongst Libyan Jews and consists primarily of tomatoes, eggs, onions, peppers and various spices. The restaurant is owned and run by a family that originates from Tripoli in Libya. Many Libyan Jews once lived here. Proof of this includes the presence of the Libyan synagogue in Jaffa's old city and another Tripolitania restaurant on Jaffa's boulevard, Sderot Jerusalem which will be the subject of a separate post.

I also like spending time browsing the delights of shops such as the concept store In Another Time at Ole Zion 26, where I recently found a Hebrew version of Tom Sawyer from the 1950's, some fantastic metal street advertising signs for Dubek cigarettes from the same period (probably designed by the Shamir brothers) and a great selection of Israeli, French and Turkish film posters. Palestine Eretz Israel at Ole Zion 8 is even more serendipitous and is crammed full of old photographs, postcards, maps, lamps, kitchen equipment and many objects of uncertain use, almost all of which have a story behind them. There is so much stuff in the shop that it can be difficult to move but it's one of the most fascinating places in the market and well worth breathing in whilst you browse. One thing to note, and there is a real note pinned to it to warn you - the vintage motorbike out front is not for sale and is used by the owner. So don't ask. Collection at 19 Yehuda Margoza is a good place to pick up gifts and stocks Israeli designed stationery, soaps, items of clothing and various items for the home. 

Many of the shops and all of the bars and restaurants stay open late into the night and large crowds of younger people gather at the informal eating and drinking places in the market's alleyways. The relatively small size of most of these places and the proximity of vintage furniture and fittings in the market makes for an interesting evening out with a very different atmosphere to some of the more corporate style bars found in big cities all over the world. The recent success of the market appears to be built on the combination of retail and catering - an approach tried and tested elsewhere too.

As well as sampling the food and browsing the shops, I like to wander through the alleyways and streets at the north end of the shuk. There are many artists' and craft workers' studios here and on Friday mornings you can see groups of artists out drawing or painting street scenes. I love the crumbling architecture in this section, especially the buildings with the curved ends that meet at the junction of Yo' Ezer Ish Habra and Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair streets Pictured at the top of this post). This area is not officially part of the flea market and was originally known as the Greek Market. Founded in 1905 it is bordered by the Clock Tower Square and Beit Eshel the main street of the flea market. This market was built under the direction of Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Avitmos who was also responsible for a similar development in Jerusalem in the same year. There are still Greek letters above one of the entrances to the market. 15-17 Beit Eshel Street is the site of the former Manuli's Khan. Built in the 1860's and named for its original Armenian owner, it became a commercial hub for the expanding Jewish community during the 1880's and guests at the Khan would consult Hebrew newspapers and discuss political issues of the day.

If further proof was needed that the market is changing, you can even find a boutique hotel here.  If you want to stay in the centre of things, the Market House Hotel at Beit Eshel 5, is in a beautifully refurbished Ottoman era building with an elegant lobby where you can also see the archaeological remains of a Byzantine Chapel through a glass section of the floor. Non-guests are welcome to have breakfast at the hotel and it's very good - I know because I've tried it. There is also a small take-away coffee shop and bakery within the hotel where all kinds of treats can be had. Perhaps the best thing about the Fleamarket is the atmosphere and that's best experienced by strolling its streets and alleys at a leisurely pace, listening to the banter of traders with customers and remembering of course to also look up so as not to miss the beautiful balconies and windows of old Jaffa.


You might also like Picture post 31 -A modernist house with a story - The French Ambassador's house in Jaffa

Thursday 3 March 2016

Picture Post 50 - I Montefiore Street Tel-Aviv, restored, extended and secured for the future.

The lower end of Montefiore Street in Tel Aviv is probably not on many people's list of places to visit. However it should be, because it has a breathtakingly beautiful and exquisitely restored architectural landmark from the 1920's. Resembling an ocean liner, number one Montefiore was originally designed for the Havoinik family by architectural maestro, Yehuda Magidovitch. Magidovitch was responsible for many eclectic style buildings in Tel Aviv including the nearby Great Synagogue on Allenby Street and the wonderful Cinema Esther (now a hotel) at Kikar Dizengoff. Magidovitch was one of the most important architects during this period but the final design of the Havoinik house was completed instead by Isaac Schwartz. Schwartz was also responsible for designing buildings on Allenby and HaYarkon streets during the same period.

In the 1920's number one Montefiore must have been one of the tallest buildings in this part of the city. Now dwarfed by some of its much less attractive neighbours, it still holds its own with a spectacular rounded and very narrow "bow" looking up Montefiore. This bow also forms the pinnacle of the building's triangular design and includes recessed balconies or loggias. The flat side has protruding balconies with decorative rails which further contribute to the nautical theme. Unfortunately I was not able to see the interior, where the stairs are covered with mosaics and have stylised handrails. 

The building was substantially restored in 2011 when substantial extensions were also made. Three additional floors were added to serve as offices and conference rooms for the Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Israel which now has its base here. A basement floor was also added to act as a storage facility for the organisation's publishing house and to be used as a bomb shelter should the need arise. The works were carried out by Amnon Bar Or Architects in 2011. Interestingly, the same company were also detailed to carry out works on Schwarz's Allenby Street building. Purists may object to the remodeling, but the changes are sympathetic to the original design and have helped secure the building's future. 

You might also like Picture Post 30 - 56 Mazeh Street Tel-Aviv, Bauhaus beauty