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Tel Aviv’s Breathtaking Bauhaus Architecture

Rows of strikingly similar buildings dot the area in what has come to be called the White City

Travel team Jungles in Paris takes you on a tour of the historic city’s sea of Bauhaus buildings in this exclusive short film.

Tel Aviv is often described (in implied or outright comparison with ancient Jerusalem) as a “modern” city. In fact, the Middle Eastern metropolis has gone through several stages of modernity since being established in 1909. The heady original phase is the most vividly preserved, in the form of Tel Aviv’s so-called “White City,” the world’s most comprehensive collection of buildings built in the Bauhaus style.

The Bauhaus began as a school 1919 in Weimar, Germany. Founder Walter Gropius wanted to erode the lines between craft and art, elite and popular. Also called The International Style, Bauhaus foreswore frivolous decoration and national traditions in favor of functionality and what were thought to be more unifying, forward-looking values. It was a ground-shaking aesthetic philosophy, one that threatened the growing Nazi movement. And when the Nazis eventually forced the practitioners of this new art and architecture out of Germany, many of the Jewish Bauhaus acolytes relocated to Tel Aviv. For many reasons, not least of which was its urgent need of housing, the fast-growing city proved an ideal canvas.

Unadorned and oddly asymmetrical, these buildings are striking today.  Many of the facades have faded to gray or brown, but those that haven’t stand in bleached contrast to the blue Mediterranean sky. If the flat roofs seem unromantic, there is something both hopeful and boldly machine-like in the strict geometry. This was a style intended for a new society, and it’s interesting to note how the architects adapted concepts born in Europe for sun-drenched Tel Aviv, shrinking windows and enlarging balconies.

UNESCO declared the “White City” a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2003, and about one quarter of the 4,000 Bauhaus buildings have been earmarked for preservation efforts. Already, many have been repurposed as entities accessible to visitors. (See below for highlights.) But it’s arguably viewed from the outside, framed by swaying palm fronds and hibiscus plants, that these buildings achieve their most powerful effect: that of a rational architecture, of a certain coolness injected into a place often burning with the heat of regional politics. When the buildings are taken care off, that coolness endures.

 

WHEN YOU GO

Hotels

The Norman consists of two 1920’s buildings on Nachmani Street, one of which (No. 25) is built in the International Style. It’s one of the sexiest hotels in town, and with a citrus garden and rooftop pool takes full advantage of Tel Aviv’s balmy climate.

An all-suite layout with kitchenettes is one of the perks of Rothschild 71. This stylish 25-room hotel is in a 1934 building on a main (but not too noisy) avenue and is an especially good option for longer stays. L’Occitane bath products are a nice touch.  Note: it’s not a good choice if you’re looking for a happening lobby scene.

The clean and serviceable Cinema Hotel as originally the Esther Cinema, one of the first movie houses in Tel Aviv. It has 83 rooms, a fantastic staircase and a lobby outfitted with evocative old movie posters and film projectors.

Sightseeing

The Bauhaus school’s influence on furniture, graphics, and beyond is on display at the Bauhaus Foundation Museum. Opened by philanthropist and cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder in 2008, this 1,300-square-foot museum is itself housed in fine example of that style, built in 1934, at 21 Bialik Street.  It is open Wednesday and Friday only.

Good displays at the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv cover the history of the style, and the appealing shop sells Bauhaus-inspired home products. The center conducts two-hour walking tours in English every day at 10 a.m.

Going Out

Since opening three years ago, Mizlala has proven itself one of the best spots in Tel Aviv for a night out. Of-the-moment chef Meir Adoni serves up dishes that combine Morocco, Israel and Brooklyn. In classic Tel Aviv fashion, the food is far from kosher and the restaurant could easily double as a nightclub. It’s in a Bauhaus building that began life in the 1930s as one of Israel’s first ad agencies.

Flights

Several airlines offer direct flights from major American cities (especially New York) to Tel Aviv. El Al, Israel’s national carrier, is known to thoroughly question passengers; depending on your outlook, you may find this unsettling or reassuring.

 

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