by Yael Adar
There are those who describe Tel Aviv as a drab, gray city of concrete. However, if you look beyond the worn buildings’ façade you will encounter the largest collection of buildings whose architectural roots can be traced to the Bauhaus architecture of Germany. It is perhaps ironic that Tel-Aviv houses the largest number of buildings designed in an architectural style that developed in pre-Nazi Germany, a style that came to an abrupt end in Germany, with the Nazi’s rise to power. This architectural style is so prevalent in Tel Aviv that it almost seems as though it were a local style, but it is not.
There are a number of characteristics to the Bauhaus/International Style of architecture:
1) It shuns ornamentation and favors functionality
2) Uses asymmetry and regularity versus symmetry
3) It grasps architecture in terms of space versus mass
Bauhaus buildings are usually cubic, favor right angles, (although some feature rounded corners and balconies); they have smooth facades and an open floor plan.
Bauhaus architecture, whose founding father was Walter Gropius, developed in Germany in the 1920s and later in the U.S., in the 1930s. The American form of this architectural style was dubbed the International Style after Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and other leaders of Bauhaus migrated to the U.S., with the Nazi’s growing influence. The Bauhaus school in Dessau was closed on April 11th, 1933, by the police, at the insistence of the National Socialist government.
Purists assert that Bauhaus architecture can only refer to buildings in Germany and anything else should be termed International Style – while others use the terms interchangeably (as is the case in this issue of Gems in Israel). The term International Style was really adopted after the publication of a book that coincided with a 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The book, by historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock and architect Philip Johnson, was called, The International Style.
Bauhaus architecture was concerned with the social aspects of design and with the creation of a new form of social housing for workers. This may be just another one of the reasons it was embraced in the newly evolving city of Tel-Aviv, at a time when socialist ideas were so prevalent.
This style of architecture came about (in part) because of new engineering developments that allowed the walls to be built around steel or iron frames. This meant that walls no longer had to support the structure, but only enveloped it – from the outside.
The teachings at the Bauhaus school of design, which functioned from 1919 to 1933 (first in Weimar and later in Dessau), were greatly influenced by the machine age. The school's aim was to fuse all the arts under the concept of design. The school had 700 students and was known for requiring its students to forget everything they had learned to date.
Gropius engaged some of the best artists of the day, Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger, and Oscar Schlemmer, to name a few, to teach at the school. Influential Bauhaus architects were Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Hannes Meyer and Le Corbusier.
The International Style was a decidedly different type of architecture that did not rely on the architecture of the past, but aimed to establish a new, modern style. In Tel Aviv, Bauhaus architecture gained a foothold, as there was no real entrenched architectural style. While this style of architecture can also be found in Haifa and Jerusalem as well as in many kibbutzim, it is most prevalent in Tel Aviv.
Adaptations were made to classic Bauhaus architecture, to suit the local needs (see Bauhaus in Tel Aviv).
THE BAUHAUS AT WEIMAR: the school's early years. Video from the Roland Collection