Tel Aviv was conceived as a garden city north of the ancient port city of Jaffa and the first Jewish settlements in its vicinity. Its master plan was commissioned by Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, and presented in 1925 by Patrick Geddes, a Scottish urban planner. Geddes laid out the streets of the new city, bordered by the Bograshov Street, the Ibn Gabirol Street, the Yarkon River, and the Mediterranean Sea. He determined the size and utilisation of the blocks, but did not prescribe an architectural style for the buildings.
By the early 1930s, a number of European Jews had immigrated to the British Mandate for Palestine. Among them were many from Germany, who had escaped as a consequence of the rise of the Nazis. Some of them had studied at the Bauhaus School in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin, and were familiar with the contemporary trends exposed by architects such as Le Corbusier and Erich Mendelsohn. The new city was eventually constructed under these architectural influences.
The term ‘Bauhaus’ is generally used to describe the style of the structures built in Tel Aviv in the 1930s and 1940s. That term, however, has a very strict meaning, contrasting with the variety of architectural forms of those buildings. It is more correct, at least academically, to talk about the International Style here.
Common features of the International Style include cubic and rounded volumes, lack of decorations, an asymmetric façade, a flat roof (often with a pergola and a garden), and horizontal and vertical windows. The play of shadow and light is achieved by balconies and openings. The horizontal axes formed by the balconies often contrast with the vertical thrust of the stairwell windows or a roof parapet. Features specific for Tel Aviv, coming from its hot and dry climate, include white and light colours (which protect against the sun by reflecting heat), long narrow recessed windows shaded by balconies (which limit the heat and glare), and piers, or pilotis, raising the volumes (which help to cool the buildings from under). The latter also provide a space for a garden or a play area for children – an important aspect when considers the need of socialisation of its inhabitants, who often came from different cultures. The emphasis is on functionality.
There are more than four thousand International Style buildings in Tel Aviv, making it the largest concentration of its kind in the world. The most important of them are located in the area around the Dizengoff Square and on and near the Rothschild Boulevard. These buildings were later collectively named as the White City, and it was under that name that they were proclaimed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
In recent years a number of International Style buildings of Tel Aviv have been restored. During the restoration works several of them have been extended, usually by adding new floors on their roofs or by constructing a new wing in the back. The new floors sometimes look identical or similar to the pre-existing building, sometimes stand in contrast with it, especially when it comes to the materials used. In general, the old and new elements together provide a cohesive look.
My portfolio introduces 78 International Style buildings in Tel Aviv, including the most important examples. I have arranged the photos chronologically, as far as the dates of planning and construction are known. I found a lot of information about that from the book Preservation and Renewal: Bauhaus and International Style Buildings in Tel Aviv, edited by Micha Gross and published by the Bauhaus Center of Tel Aviv. I took the photos in February and August 2019.
You will find the locations of the mentioned sites on the map below:
1. Havoinik House
Montefiore St. 1
Isaac Schwarz, probably 1920s (extension 2011)
This building was supposed to be constructed according to the plan of Yehuda Magidovitch, but finally the project of Isaac Schwarz was realised.
It is one of the most outstanding International Style structures in Tel Aviv, reminiscent in its current form of the Flatiron Building in New York. It has a triangular shape, a high platform and a strong horizontal accent. The protruding balconies facing the Ha-Shakhar Street contrast with the recessed balconies supported by pillars at the corner facing the Montefiore Street. The stairwell protrudes from the building’s flat surface.
In 2011 three office and conference-hall floors were added. The basement floor was constructed as well, serving as a store room and a shelter in case of emergency.
2. Yavor House
Rothschild Blvd. 8 / Herzl St. 8
Shalmon, early 1930s (extension 2008)
This was originally a four-storey building with offices and shops. A partial floor was added to it in the 1950s. Horizontality is emphasised by the rows of windows, bands cut into the plaster, and cornices. A long ribbon window runs across the entire mezzanine floor. The ground-floor columns set back from the façade enable the continuity of the shop windows on the ground floor. This façade division is repeated on the adjacent buildings on Herzl Street. New structures were added to the rear in 2008.
3. Rothschild Blvd. 79
Josef and Ze’ev Berlin, 1929 (extension 2009)
This building is a work of two architects whose also designed the Elishav House two years later. The two buildings are very similar. The façades are both symmetrical, and on the both façades the horizontal variation of textures is counterbalanced by the vertical aspect of the central stairwell. Common is also the fact that the stairwells of the both buildings were closed for many years. This one was opened up during the reconstruction in 2009. That reconstruction included the addition of three new floors on top of the building as well as the construction of a rear structure, which joins the building to the one on Rothschild Boulevard 81. The new upper floors make extensive use of wood and steel beams, while the rear building is a steel-and-glass construction.
4. Elishav House
Mazeh St. 27
Josef & Ze’ev Berlin, 1931 (extension 2000)
This structure is a work of the architects who also designed the building on Rothschild Boulevard 79. It has a vertical stairwell window in the middle of the façade and elongated horizontal balconies. The stairwell window was dismantled and sealed in the 1950s. Variation of textures is provided by bands of plaster and silicate bricks in different colours. The building was renovated in 2000, and two floors were also added.
5. Balfour St. 40
Pinchas Biezunsky, 1931 (extension 2014)
This building’s envelope is composed of silicate bricks and plaster, while the windows and roller shutters are made of wood. The variation of colours of the materials is interesting, as are the balcony structures at the corners. The building had originally three floors, to which three new floors were added in 2014.
Pinchas Biezunsky is the architect who also designed the famous building on HaYarkon Street 86 and the house of Reuven Rubin on Bialik Street 14.
6. Rothschild Blvd. 81 / Balfour St. 41
Moshe Czerner (Cherner), 1931 (extension 2009)
This building has round balconies at the corner, which, together with the other balconies, accentuate the horizontal lines on the both façades. In 2009, the building was extended by an upper floor in the same style as the old building and by two other floors made of steel beams and wood. A steel-and-glass structure was added to the back, to connect the building with the one on Rothschild Boulevard 79.
7. Kruskal House
Hess St. 21 / Idelson St. 25
Richard Kaufmann, 1931-1933 or 1936
Some authors mention that this building was designed and built between 1931 and 1933, while others date it to 1936. Its owner was Dr. Victoria Kruskal, who lived and worked here. The building was originally lower, almost half of the current height, and had a more oblong shape, with emphasised horizontal axes.
8. Rothschild Blvd. 61
Salomon Gepstein, 1932 (extension 2006)
This building consists of three volumes that are placed with setbacks, forming a garden space in front of it. Horizontality is emphasised by the balconies at the corners of the set-back volumes (together with their narrow slits) as well as by the cornices above the windows at the street-front corner. It is further achieved by the plasterwork, which places the building to the early phase of International Style in Tel Aviv, when many façades where horizontally divided into bands of different colours and materials. In 2006, a new floor was added to structure, set back from the front façade and made of metal and glass.
Gepstein also designed the Yafe House and the building on Yehuda HaLevi Street 14.
9. Café Sapphire
Allenby St. 39 / Tchernichovsky St. 1 / Bialik St. 2
David Tuvia, 1932
This corner structure reminds of the work of Erich Mendelsohn. It was designed by the architect who also created the house of David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel.
This building has always operated as a café or a restaurant, first known as Café Sapphire, and later as Café Nightingale and Café Gan Raveh. The original café offered a regular ultra-elegant five-o’clock tea and organised dance parties on Thursday evenings. When the weather was good, the service expanded to the rooftop, which had a lush garden. In 2002, when it was known as My Coffee Shop, the café was the site of a deadly terrorist attack.
The building was on the verge of destruction in 2007, and a tower was supposed to be constructed in its place. It still survives and is now known as Café Bialik. The café shares the building with shops.
10. Engel House
Rothschild Blvd. 84 / Mazeh St. 41
Ze’ev Rechter, 1933
This is one of the most famous Modernist buildings in Tel Aviv. It was the first building in the city to be raised on pilotis. That creates a large garden area under the wing facing the Rothschild Boulevard. The garden joins directly with the central open space of the U-shaped building, which together give the structure an airy look. The open balconies have very elegant railings.
Rechter also designed the Soskin House and the Krieger House.
11. Soskin House
Lilienblum St. 12
Ze’ev Rechter, 1933 (extension 2006)
This building consists of two wings: the front wing was the family’s residence, while in the rear wing zinc plates for printing photos were produced (Avraham Soskin was a photographer). The residential wing has a dynamic corner solution with an interesting curved balcony and a sequence of recessed windows recalling a ribbon window. The horizontal accent provided by these elements is balanced by the vertical thrust of the roof parapet on the other side of the building. In 2006, a new floor was built on the roof of this wing, invisible from the street.
The rear wing is designed in an industrial language. It has a raised slate roof.
12. Sadowski House
Rothschild Blvd. 85
Carl Rubin, 1933 (extension 2013)
This building is L-shaped, which creates a garden in front it. Its dominant elements are the balconies and the thermometer window of the stairwell. It originally had three floors. Three more floors were added to it 2013, one designed like the lower ones and two set back and with large windows.
In 1933, Carl Rubin was also working on the remodelling of the house of Meir Dizengoff. That house had just been converted into the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and on May 14, 1948 it served as the site of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
13. Milner House
Rothschild Blvd. 100 / Engel St. 1
Many earlier International Style buildings in Tel Aviv show structural ornamentation. This is one of the first to be almost entirely free of that.
14. Melchett St. 23 / Sheinkin St. 43
Caspi, around 1933 (extension 2011)
This building had originally three floors, with shops on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors. The first-floor balconies have unique International Style railings. In 2011, three floors were added, the first one designed like the second floor, the second one with wood-lined ribbon windows, and the third one set back from the façade and invisible from the street.
15. Bruno House
Strauss St. 3
Ze’ev Haller, 1933 (extension 2004)
This building was designed by Ze’ev Haller, who was also working on the Ehrlich House in Florentin around the same time. The curving lines of the balconies are probably the most interesting in Tel Aviv. In 2004, two new floors were added to it, both in the spirit of the old building.
16. Aharonovitch House
Rothschild Blvd. 117
Yitzhak Rapoport, 1933-1934
This building is divided into three volumes by two stairwells with thermometer windows. There is a spacious garden in front of it.
17. Ehrlich House
Herzl St. 79 / Florentin St. 38
Ze’ev Haller, 1933-1934 (extension 2014)
While buildings in the White City are generally separated from its neighbours and are set back from the street line, in older quarters like Jaffa and Florentin they begin right from the street and have common walls with the adjacent buildings. Here, the horizontal dimension is provided by the long balconies, the windows (especially the rows of corner windows), and the gray stripes between them. The stairwell has a typical thermometer window. Typical is also the top-floor pergola.
In 2014, one entire floor was added in the middle of the structure, raising the level of the corner balcony and the pergola. Two partial floors were added onto the top of the building as well.
18. Krieger House
Rothschild Blvd. 71
Ze’ev Rechter, 1934
This was originally the home of Dr. Moshe Krieger, whose clinic also operated here. It was recently renovated by the Krieger family and turned into a boutique hotel. The contrast between the sunken balconies and the white surface of the façade is striking.
19. Yehuda HaLevi St. 14
Salomon Gepstein, 1934 (extension 2008)
This building has a U-shaped plan, which creates a little square at the entrance. It was originally designed for a law firm. Later more than half of the rooms were used by a court, some were bank offices, and on the upper floor operated a hotel. After it consisted entirely of rental offices, but since 2008 it is an apartment building. The three upper floors are from that time as well.
20. Muller House
Nafha St. 14 / Merkaz Ba’alei Melaha St. 14
Baruch Friedman, 1934 (extension 2014)
The house of Yoel Muller had originally three floors and a basement. It has two stairwells, expressed on the façades by thermometer windows. Two new floors and a partial penthouse set back from the front façade were added in 2014. The old and the new floors have a slightly different design of the balconies and their railings, and different sequences of windows. The penthouse stands out for its gray-blue colour.