White City (Tel Aviv)

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
White City of Tel Aviv –
the Modern Movement
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Tel Aviv Ben Gurion - Emil Zola 2011.jpg
White City architecture in central Tel Aviv

Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iv
Reference 1096
UNESCO region Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 2003 (27th Session)

The White City (Hebrew: העיר הלבנה‎, Ha-Ir ha-Levana) refers to a collection of over 4,000 buildings built in a unique form of the Bauhaus or International Style in Tel Aviv from the 1930s by German Jewish architects who immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine after the rise of the Nazis. Tel Aviv has the largest number of buildings in the Bauhaus/International Style of any city in the world. Preservation, documentation, and exhibitions have brought attention to Tel Aviv's collection of 1930s architecture. In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed Tel Aviv's White City a World Cultural Heritage site, as "an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century."[1] The citation recognized the unique adaptation of modern international architectural trends to the cultural, climatic, and local traditions of the city. The Bauhaus Center in Tel Aviv organises regular architectural tours of the city.

Historical background

Tel Aviv Bauhaus Museum
Dizengoff Square in the 1940s
Rabinsky House in the center of Tel Aviv

The concept for a new garden city, to be called Tel Aviv, was developed on the sand dunes outside Jaffa in 1909.[2] Scottish urban planner Patrick Geddes, who had previously worked on town-planning in New Delhi, was commissioned by Tel Aviv's first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, to draw up a master plan for the new city. Geddes began work in 1925 on the plan, which was accepted in 1929.[3] The view of the British Mandatory authorities seemed to have been supportive. In addition to Geddes, and Dizengoff, the city engineer Ya'acov Ben-Sira contributed significantly to the development and planning during his 1929 to 1951 tenure.[4] Patrick Geddes laid out the streets and decided on block size and utilisation. Geddes did not prescribe an architectural style for the buildings in the new city. But by 1933, many Jewish architects of the Bauhaus school in Germany, like Arieh Sharon, fled to the British Mandate of Palestine.[5] Both the emigration of these Jewish architects and the closing of the Bauhaus school in Berlin were consequences of the rise to power of the Nazi party in Germany in 1933.

The residential and public buildings were designed by these architects, and by architects born locally including Ben-Ami Shulman, who put the principles of modern architecture into practice. The Bauhaus principles, with their emphasis on functionality and inexpensive building materials, were perceived as ideal in Tel Aviv. The architects fleeing Europe brought not only Bauhaus ideas; the architectural ideas of Le Corbusier were also mixed in. Furthermore, Erich Mendelsohn was not formally associated with the Bauhaus, though he had several projects in Israel in the 1930s as did Carl Rubin, an architect from Mendelsohn's office.[6] In the 1930s in Tel Aviv, many architectural ideas were converging and Tel Aviv was the ideal place for them to be tested.

Location map of the three conservation zones included in the WHS listing

In 1984, in celebration of Tel Aviv's 75th year,[7] an exhibition was held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art entitled White City, International Style Architecture in Israel, Portrait of an Era. Some sources trace the origin of the term "White City" to this exhibition and its curator Michael Levin,[7] some to the poet Nathan Alterman.[8] The 1984 exhibition traveled to New York, to the Jewish Museum.[9] In 1994, a conference took place at the UNESCO headquarters, entitled World Conference on the International Style in Architecture. Credit was given to Israeli artist Dani Karavan who made a sculpture garden at the headquarters,[10] and had earlier made a sculptural environment entitled Kikar Levana that was inspired by the White City.[11] In 1996, Tel Aviv's White City was listed as a World Monuments Fund endangered site.[12] In 2003, UNESCO named Tel Aviv a World Heritage Site for its treasure of modern architecture.[13]

Adaptation to local climate

Cinema Hotel, formerly an International Style movie theater built in the 1930s

However, the architecture had to be adapted to suit the extremes of the Mediterranean and desert climate. White and light colors reflected the heat. Walls not only provided privacy but protected against the sun. Large areas of glass that let in the light, a key element of the Bauhaus style in Europe, were replaced with small recessed windows that limited the heat and glare. Long narrow balconies, each shaded by the balcony above it, allowed residents to catch the breeze blowing in from the sea to the west. Slanted roofs were replaced with flat ones, providing a common area where residents could socialize in the cool of the evening.[14]

The Engel House in the White City of Tel Aviv. Architect: Zeev Rechter, 1933. A residential building that has become one of the symbols of Modernist architecture. The first building in Tel Aviv to be built on pilotis.

Buildings were raised on pillars (pilotis), the first being the 1933 Engel House designed by Zeev Rechter.[15] These allow the wind to blow under and cool the apartments, as well as providing a play area for children. In 1935, at the office building Beit Hadar, steel frame structure was introduced,[16] a technique which facilitates opening the first floor for such purposes.

The style of architecture and construction methods used in the hundreds of new buildings came to define the character of the modern city. Most of the buildings were of concrete[15] (reinforced concrete was often applied from 1912 on[6]) and in the summer were unbearably hot despite their innovative design features. Tel Aviv’s residents took to the streets in the evenings, frequenting the numerous small parks between the buildings and the growing number of coffee shops, where they could enjoy the evening air. This tradition continues in the café society, and nightlife of the city today.[7]

The apartment blocks provided a variety of services such as childcare, postal services, store, and laundry within the buildings themselves. Additionally, having a connection to the land was viewed as extremely important, so residents were encouraged to grow their own vegetables on an allotment of land set aside next to or behind the building. This created a sense of community for the residents, who were in the main, displaced people from differing cultures and origins.[17]

Preservation plans

Classical Bauhaus building with "thermometer" windows
Classical Bauhaus building - "The Thermometer House" named after the shape of its windows

Many of the buildings from this period, some architectural classics, have been neglected to the point of ruin, and before legislation was passed, some were demolished. However, of the original 4,000 Bauhaus buildings built, some have been refurbished and at least 1,500 more are slated for preservation and restoration.[15] The municipal government of Tel Aviv passed legislation in 2009 that covers some 1,000 structures.[18] In 2015 the German government entered into an agreement with the city under which Germany will contribute 2.8 million euros ($3.2 million) toward the preservation project over a ten-year period; some of the money will go toward the establishment of a preservation center in Tel Aviv's Max-Liebling House to foster collaboration among architects, craftsmen and artists.[19][20]

Documentation and exhibitions

The widest architectural survey of the White City has been held by Nitza Metzger Szmuk. It was later transformed into a book and an exhibition called "Dwelling on the Dunes".[17] The exhibition was originally held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2004 and then traveled to Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany.[21][22][23][24]

On occasion of the 100 years since the city's founding, Docomomo International published Docomomo Journal 40 in March 2009, with most of the coverage in the journal on "Tel Aviv 100 Years: A Century of Modern Buildings."[25]

Bauhaus Center

Established in 2000, the Bauhaus Center in Tel Aviv is an organization dedicated to the ongoing documentation of the architectural heritage.[26] In 2003, it hosted an exhibition on preservation of the architecture that showcased 25 buildings.[27]

Bauhaus Museum

A small Bauhaus Museum was opened in Bialik Street, near the old City Hall in 2008.[28][29]

See also

  • Södra Ängby, contemporaneous modernist urban villa area in Stockholm, Sweden



  1. UNESCO, Decision Text, World Heritage Centre, retrieved 14 September 2009
  2. Barbara E. Mann, A place in history: modernism, Tel Aviv, and the creation of Jewish urban space, Stanford University Press, 2006, p. xi ISBN 0-8047-5019-X
  3. Yael Zisling, A Patchwork of Neighborhoods, Gems in Israel, April 2001
  4. Selwyn Ilan Troen, Imagining Zion: dreams, designs, and realities in a century of Jewish settlement, Yale University Press, 2003, p. 146 ISBN 0-300-09483-3
  5. Ina Rottscheidt, Kate Bowen, Jewish refugees put their own twist on Bauhaus homes in Israel, Deutsche Welle, 1 April 2009
  6. 6.0 6.1 UNESCO, Advisory Body Evaluation: Tel Aviv (Israel) No 1096, p. 57, retrieved 14 September 2009
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Goel Pinto, Taking to the streets - all night long, Haaretz, 29 June 2007
  8. Bill Strubbe, Back to Bauhaus: A Weekly Briefing in the Mother Tongue, The Jewish Daily Forward, 25 June 2004
  9. Paul Goldberger, Architecture View: Tel Aviv, Showcase of Modernism is Looking Frayed The New York Times, 25 November 1984
  10. Michael Omolewa, Message by H.E. Professor Michael Omolewa President of the General Conference of UNESCO, UNESCO, 6–8 June 2004, retrieved 17 September 2009
  11. Yael Zisling, Dani Karavan's Kikar Levana, Gems in Israel, December 2001 / January 2002
  12. World Monuments Fund, World Monuments Watch 1996-2006, retrieved 16 September 2009
  13. UNESCO, White City of Tel-Aviv -- the Modern Movement World Heritage Centre, retrieved 14 September 2009
  14. Daniella Ashkenazy, Tel Aviv - "Bauhaus Capital" of the World, Israel Magazine-On-Web, 1 April 1998, retrieved 14 September 2009
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Yael Zisling, Bauhaus in Tel Aviv, Gems in Israel, April 2001
  16. Stanford University, The Streets of Tel Aviv: The New City and Its Setting, retrieved 15 September 2009
  17. 17.0 17.1 Nitza Metzger-Szmuk, Des maisons sur le sable: Tel-Aviv, mouvement moderne et esprit Bauhaus, éditions de l’éclat, 2004, p. 307 ISBN 2-84162-077-8
  18. Sharon Udasin, Bauhaus is Our House, The Jewish Week, 20 May 2009
  19. "Saving the world's largest Bauhaus settlement" (15 May 2015). Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  20. "Germany Donates $2.8 Million for Tel Aviv's White City Restorations" (19 May 2015). Jewish Business News. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  21. White City exhibition at the UQAM, Montreal [1]
  22. White City exhibition at the EPFL, Switzerland [2]
  23. White City exhibition at the CIVA, Brussels [3]
  24. White City exhibition at the DAM, Frankfurt [4]
  25. Docomomo International, Journal 40, March 2009
  26. The Bauhaus Center, Haaretz, 18 May 2008
  27. Esther Zandberg, תערוכה על שימור הבאוהאוס בת"א - כללי - הארץ - Exhibition on Preservation of Bauhaus in Tel Aviv, Haaretz, 15 October 2003
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  29. David Bachar, Surroundings / Daniella Luxembourg's Bauhaus kiosk, Haaretz, 1 May 2008


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External links

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