Tel Aviv: Balancing modernization and preservation of the White City

April 19, 2016 02:11

While some experts argued that TAMA-38 restorations destroy the historic value of the buildings in the city, others argued that it makes the buildings more livable and accessible for active use.

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 Bauhaus building in Tel Aviv

Bauhaus building in Tel Aviv . (photo credit: TALMORYAIR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The challenges facing Tel Aviv to balance the push forward toward modernization with preserving its heritage were discussed by architects, developers and experts in the field Monday the Tel Aviv Urban Renewal Conference.

A central part of the gathering, organized by Meda Conferences, focused on building restorations that are done as part of the state-sponsored program known by the Hebrew acronym TAMA-38, which proposes to buttress and expand older apartment houses at no cost to the residents, while the contractors who do the job are compensated by being granted the right to construct additional floors and sell off the new flats.

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In one of the panels, a number of experts debated how to best restore buildings in the city, questioning whether it is better to maintain their authentic style or allow the TAMA-38 restorations, which provide more housing units for people to live.

While some of the experts argued that TAMA-38 restorations destroy the historic value of the buildings in the White City, others argued that it makes the buildings more livable and accessible for active use.

At the top of the considerations is Tel Aviv’s status as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) heritage site due to its abundance of distinct white Bauhaus buildings.

During one of the panels called Tel Aviv in 2030, Arnon Giladi, who heads the city’s urban renewal committee said that the whole reason that the city’s restoration was originally done out of a desire to protect buildings from damage from nature, such as with earthquakes.

“In reality, this affects very few apartments,” he said. “The goal should know be to increase the amount of places for people to live.”

Professor Nitza Szmuk, an architect who specializes in restoration and preservation, criticized the idea that a few thousand or so buildings designated as historic, White City buildings, should determine the future for the other 400,000 buildings within the city’s borders.

“Almost none” of the original 4,000 buildings recognized by UNESCO are left in the wake of Tama 38, as well as Tama 1 and Tama 2 programs, which restore buildings without adding extra floors, she noted at the beginning of the panel.

At one point, she said the practice of adding extra levels to historic buildings is “almost unheard of” in Europe.

To this, Amikam Berger, vice president of White City Buildings Holdings Ltd., retorted that Europe has its style and Israel has its own.

Israelis, he said, need to agree among themselves on how to proceed with restorations before dealing with foreign organizations such as UNESCO, which generated much applause.

Berger also asked whether it is still relevant nowadays for Tel Aviv to be involved with UNESCO at all.

Guy Kob-Vanki, who heads the Israeli UNESCO committee argued that it should be possible to restore and even expand historical buildings while still maintaining their character, but doubts this will be approved under UNESCO’s guidelines.

Tel Aviv needs to “maintain its values” as the “City of Gardens,” where a person can be in a busy downtown area and still have a quiet street, he said.

“People my age and older remember Tel Aviv as an ugly city,” the middle-aged Kob-Vanki mused.

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