Where Is the White City? And Why Is It Important Today?
The White City Today
Premier Example of Bauhaus Architecture
Today the White City in Tel Aviv, Israel is considered to be most extensive remnant of Bauhaus architecture. The multi-block city section is so distinctive that UNESCO has designated the whole area to be a World Heritage Site. Today, many of the buildings house urban residents, while upscale stores, coffee shops and boutiques are often found at street level.
A Brief History of Tel Aviv
Before 1900, the coastal city of Tel Aviv in modern day Israel did not exist. At that time the area, that currently houses the Israeli capital was nothing more than a large tract of undeveloped land, situated just outside the ancient port and walled city of Jaffa.
All of this changed in April 1909, when several dozen families gathered on a large parcel of arid land, sitting adjacent to the Mediterranean. Through a lottery system of sea shells, each family received a plot of land, where they could build a home and become part of a new and growing town. The neighborhood would be called Ahuzat Bayit, eventually growing into a larger municipality known as Tel Aviv.
The growing city began to take on an organized shape in 1925, when a city planner from Scotland, named Patrick Geddes arrived. By adding public space for gardens and introducing pedestrian avenues, the city started to grow. Further immigration from Germany and Russia produced even greater growth in the 30s.
The Poli House
First Bauhaus-trained Architect Arrives In Tel Aviv
During the 1920s,Tel Aviv experienced extensive population growth. With an initial head count of about 2,000 people in 1920, the new city in the sand expanded to approximately 40,000 persons by the end of the decade. This spiraling arrival of humanity proved to be fertile ground for young and innovative city planners and state-of-the-art architects. One such architect was a Swiss emigre, who went by the bane of Schlomo Liasowski
Liasowski left Zurich in 1929, after completing his training at the prestigious Bauhaus in Germany. Four years later, Liasowski designed the Poli House, the same year that the Nazis shut down the famed Bauhaus School. Shortly thereafter, four other architecture students from the Bauhaus arrived in Tel Aviv, forming the basis for the design team that planned many of the International style buildings that would eventually be known as the "White City".
An Original Bauhaus Building in Dessau
History of the Bauhaus
The Bauhaus was an innovative collection of artists, architects, photographers and designers, who came together in post WWI Germany to form an art collective that is still studied today. During its 14 year run, the institution was physically located in three German cities. The Bauhaus, which literally translates as "building houses", opened in Weimar in 1919, moved to Dessau in 1925, Here, it remained until 1932, when local politics, namely the growing influence of the Nazis, made it necessary to move the school to Berlin, where it only lasted one more year.
What Is Bauhaus Design?
Why Is It Called the White City?
This place is named the "White City" because most of the buildings have been painted white or a similar pastel color. This was done when the ten block area was originally built and has remained that way ever since it was constructed back in the 30s and 40s. Not surprisingly, the reasons are very basic. This part of the Middle East sees many hot and sunny days and so the light color was applied to reflect the heat.
UNESCO Discovers the White City
In 2003, UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) declared the "White City" of Tel Aviv to be a world heritage site. This classification was based on numerous examples of buildings designed and built in the Modernist tradition and on the considerations the builders had given to city planning principles and to constructing architecture compatible with the harsh arid climate. Today, many of the standing buildings are in a dilapidated state, while those that have been fixed and repaired are so pricey that only the very wealthy can afford to visit or live in these places.
10 Restored Bauhaus Buildings in Tel Aviv
The Dark Side of the White City
According to Sharon Rotbard, dissident Israeli architect, and author of White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the architectural history of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, could be a bit overblown, as the true history of this place might be much darker. The well-known architecture professor goes on to say that the creation of modern-day Tel Aviv involved the forced departure of a large number of Palestinian families, sometimes at the hands of an armed Israeli militia. Rotbard also adds that the presence of the Bauhaus trained architects working in Palestine numbered at about four and most of the buildings that they created have become part of expensive, gentrified neighborhoods.
© 2018 Harry Nielsen