Cream-colored stone apartment buildings line nearly every street in central Tel Aviv, each varying slightly in shape and size but adhering to a loosely defined style of openness and movement that is particular to Israel’s “White City.” (In 2003, the area was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.)
Tel Aviv urban development began with the “eclectic style” of the 1920s, largely through the plans of Scottish architect Patrick Geddes said Jeremie Hoffmann, 42, the director of Tel Aviv’s municipal Conservation Department. In the 1930s, Tel Aviv saw an influx of bourgeoisie, as well as famed architects from the German Bauhaus School eager to construct the stone buildings.
“Every house is an urban villa,” said Hoffmann, who also teaches architectural studies at Tel Aviv University. “You have a feeling of a suburb in the middle of the city.”
The Bauhaus architects brought with them a new language of architectural purity that rejected uniform design. Yet in the process, Bauhaus ended up becoming a style itself, Hoffmann said laughingly, as he led The Jewish Week on a tour of the White City.
Recently, Hoffmann helped push through Urban Plan 2650B, which will give over 1,000 buildings conservation status for the first time in any Israeli municipality.
The first stop was in front of a 1934 apartment building with curved corners (top left), whose robust pillars allow the house to “float” and “touch the sky.”
Hugging the villa’s edges are stacked, rounded balconies that work to cool the building. “White City” balconies are free of ornaments, aside from a few floral vines and banners to honor kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit (bottom right).
Hoffmann called attention to a marked stylistic difference from the more recent late-modern era (bottom left), where a building’s balconies could now be opened or sealed with a flip of paneled blinds.
Sandwiched between blocks are communal garden nooks, a concept that Geddes borrowed from British architect Ebenezer Howard, Hoffmann explained.
Nearby is the picturesque house of Israel’s early 20th-century national poet, Chaim Nahman Bialik (center left).
Pausing in front of another apartment building (top right), Hoffmann pointed out how the stacked balconies provided an airy, movable feel, and allowed people to engage in street-wide conversations.
“The city became a kind of kibbutz,” he said.
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