It owes its name to an ancient site of Mesopotamia, cited in the Bible by Ezekiel, however the historical reasons have led Tel Aviv to become part of UNESCO heritage actually thanks to Bauhaus – the architectural style that became a reference point for modern avant-gardes inspired by rationalism and European practicality.
Founded in 1909, “The Garden City” develops around the idea of bringing the North European architectural rationality into “Eretz Y’sroel” by the Jews from the Diaspora, who in those years had begun the Aliyah – their return to the land of origin. In the ’20s the city grew exponentially without a precise regulatory plan on the constructive model of the European Garden-cities, with the single-family low houses set within the green gardens and parks.
However, in the 1930s an architectural breakthrough began, when young designers arrived, creating entire neighbourhoods according to that new, rational style, with strict lines and neutral colours, which in the first post-war period had made its way into Europe.
They were students, almost at the end of their studies, who as Jews had not been able to complete their studies in the home countries, yet they had embraced the teachings of a singular educational and cultural experiment that had revolutionized the field not only of architecture, but also art, design and culture in general: the Bauhaus, a newly designed art school working in Germany from 1919 to 1933, founded by Walter Gropius.
Their teachers would go to the United States where, thanks to the vast American capitals, were able to develop an interesting evolution of style. Lesser known were these “pioneers”, who travelled to a poor land, which they called homeland but they had not been theirs for 2000 years. Among Arabs who had grown more hostile, they worked with the idea of creating the architectural background of a society in which the Jews are not the others, but rather true citizens.
They worked by transplanting the lay and democratic ideals of the Bauhaus into Palestine.
Bauhaus was the root of a thrilling social and cultural experiment before that of an artistic movement – it was a school of arts and crafts where the artisan, the designer and the student lived and worked closely together. The intent was that of unifying a high level of culture with craftsmanship and experimentation with new materials. They wanted to create a new professional role, who had both technical skills and an understanding of culture. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, an architect and designer who was a teacher at this school, had defined it as his motto; “Less is more”, banishing the superfluous, that which is ornamental and redundant.
They promoted a new view of aesthetics in which function had to guide the form. If the shape was useful and practical, it was therefore beautiful and did not need anything else. At the foundation, there was a democratic ideology that aimed to redefine the foundations of art, however an art that was purified from all decorative actions, a clear and rational art for a society that was economically and morally destroyed by the Great War.
In architecture, this meant designing buildings with clean and essential shapes, based on logical and essential cubic volumes that were well balanced and with rounded profiles. There was a preference for non-colour: white or cream has given its name to the district of Tel Aviv that develops according to a new master plan in three adjoining areas, with the greatest concentration of buildings that is located around Dizengoff Square and in area between Rotschild Boulevard and Shenkin Street.
After all, these simple forms lent themselves to the need to build quickly and with structures according to European standards for all those Jews who, growing more and more numerous, were arriving from the Old Continent. For those who escaped the persecution and intolerance that was being created in Europe between the two world wars, this city had to look exactly like the “Promised Land”. It was as if “Reason” had become architecture.
Among those clear and bright houses, built according to man and far from the magniloquence and the baroque rhetoric that connoted the European architectural tradition, they had perhaps the illusion of creating a new society.
For those who would like to see this in person, the Bauhaus Center is located in via Dizengoff, which provides the visitor with design plans and other useful information, also organizing tours in different languages. Places that shouldn’t be missed are the Dizengoff Square Cinema Hotel, the Soskin House on Lillenblum street, or simply a stroll along Rothschild Boulevard.