A World Heritage sight to see
Over 1,000 buildings in Tel Aviv have been declared as historical landmarks that cannot be torn down but should be renovated.
Bauhaus building Photo: Yoni Cohen
As defined by UNESCO, a World Heritage Site is one that signifies an
important landmark in the development of mankind. Tel Aviv is the third
World Heritage Site in Israel after Masada and the walled Crusader city
The fact that there are only three such sites in a
region that has a civilized history going back more than 3,000 years is
puzzling. Spain, for example, has 14. But perhaps although we have a
sense of history, we are less willing than the Spaniards to devote the
resources to preserve and enhance our historical landmarks.
Aviv only recently made it to fame. Up to the mid-1980s, real estate
developers had a field day tearing down any building that got in the way
of making money. Then, when a particularly beautiful apartment building
was torn down on the corner of Ahad Ha’am and Hahashmonaim streets,
there was a public outcry, and the municipality decided to preserve
whatever was worth preserving.
The historic center of Tel Aviv
was declared a World Heritage Site because of the large number of
buildings that were built in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s in the
international architectural style of Bauhaus. An architectural style
that flourished in Germany in the 1930s, Bauhaus has clean functional
lines and aesthetic beauty. Most of the buildings constructed in that
style were built in Germany. But in World War II, the Royal Air Force
and the US Air Force bombarded German cities. As a result, most of the
world’s remaining Bauhaus buildings are found in Tel Aviv. They are
located in the area bordered in the east by Ivn Gvirol and Yehuda Halevi
streets, to the west by the Mediterranean Sea, to the north by the
Yarkon River, and to the south by Allenby Street.
This area of
Tel Aviv was built in the 1930s and 1940s by architects who either came
from Germany or were educated there. The result is a wealth of Bauhaus
style buildings that were adapted to Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean climate,
featuring many large windows, balconies, etc.
Tel Aviv was also
declared a World Heritage Site because the municipality had the good
sense to preserve the unique garden city planned by Patrick Geddes. He
was in charge of planning in the Palestine British Mandate government in
the 1920s and 1930s. He planned a city of boulevards and gardens, as
well as small green areas and places of rest around the city. One of the
important aspects of the city plan was parceled buildings, which means
that each building was a stand-alone on its own green plot as opposed to
the row houses that were current in Europe. Tel Aviv is a major example
of a Patrick Geddes garden city. Tel Aviv was declared a World Heritage
Site because of the Bauhaus and Geddes elements, but in the citation
the UNESCO committee also mentioned the city’s varied and unique mix of
architectural styles in the historic center. They named the area the
White City because the original facade of the buildings was white. The
architectural style is eclectic Mediterranean and Central European. It
is doubtful whether such a mix of agricultural styles exists anywhere
else in the world.
The municipality of Tel Aviv has declared more
than 1,000 buildings as historical landmarks that cannot be torn down
but should be renovated. Of these, 150 cannot be touched at all and can
only be restored to their original form.
Many of these buildings
are in a dilapidated state because their owners could not afford even
the most rudimentary maintenance work. The cause for this was a law
passed in 1940 in all parts of the British Empire that froze rents for
the duration of the war. In the UK, this law was not removed from the
statute books until the 1960s. In Israel, it is effective to this day.
result was catastrophic for landowners. Rents were frozen, inflation
was rampant; consequently, rents dropped to nothing. Landlords who were
not getting any income had no money to make repairs or maintain their
buildings. Many of the original landlords have since passed away.
the new owners who are aware of the potential value of their property
are busy trying to buy out the tenants who most probably bought their
tenancy rights on the payment of key money. The new owners refurbish the
building and then sell the apartments. As apartments in historical
buildings, they fetch premium prices, even in the current slack real
estate market. Old mansions in the vicinity of the lower part of
Rothschild Blvd. are being purchased by law firms, financial houses and
corporations and are refurbished as plush offices.
One of the
reasons for the popularity of the Bauhaus style in Israel was that it
was closely associated with the social democratic movement in Central
Europe. Since the mid-1920s, the dominant political ideology in the
Jewish Yishuv in Palestine was social democratic. With the establishment
of the State of Israel, it was still very much so. In the 1950s very
few apartment buildings were built in the Bauhaus style, but many public
One of the most striking examples of Bauhaus
architecture is in Dizengoff Square. All the buildings facing the square
are in the Bauhaus style. Public Bauhaus buildings include the Mann
Auditorium, Zionists of America House, the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion
and the headquarters of the Histadrut, the Israel federation of labor.