White City of Tel-Aviv -- the Modern Movement

Since 2003 • Cultural

Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 and developed as a metropolitan city under the British Mandate in Palestine. The White City was constructed from the early 1930s until the 1950s, based on the urban plan by Sir Patrick Geddes, reflecting modern organic planning principles. The buildings were designed by architects who were trained in Europe where they practised their profession before immigrating. They created an outstanding architectural ensemble of the Modern Movement in a new cultural context.

The White City of Tel-Aviv is a synthesis of outstanding significance of the various trends of the Modern Movement in architecture and town planning in the early part of the 20th century. Such influences were adapted to the cultural and climatic conditions of the place, as well as being integrated with local traditions.

Tel Aviv developed to the north of the city of Jaffa, on the hills along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The property consists of three selected urban areas were built in the 1930s, based on the urban master plan by the British architect Patrick Geddes. The Geddes plan identified an area that was conceived as a 'garden city,' but with a more urban character than those built earlier. There was a free-standing building on each lot, surrounded by a garden, and the ground plan should not be more than one-third of the lot. The development of Tel Aviv follows a succession of urban plans, starting from ancient Jaffa, and including the historic quarters of Neve Zedek (1896), Achuzat Bayit (1909), the Red City, Lev Hayir and, finally, the White City of Tel-Aviv (1931-47).

Historically, the beginning is marked by the construction of Neve Zedek, with two-storey sandstone buildings with tiled roofs in traditional styles built on a hill sloping towards the sea: this became the first nucleus of Tel Aviv. The Red City, developed to the east, consists mostly of eclectic-style buildings with tiled roofs. Lev Hayir (the core of present-day Tel Aviv) and its surroundings extend to the north. It is mainly built in international style, a succession of three- to five-storey buildings with gardens. The Central White City, to the north and built according to the Geddes Plan, has clearly marked residential zones and business areas. The centre is on the highest point, the Circus of Zina Dizengoff with the Habima Theatre, a museum pavilion, and the Mann Auditorium. The buildings are mainly three to four storeys high, with flat roofs, plaster rendering, some decorative features, and the colour scheme ranging from cream to white. The Northern White City, beyond the Ben Gurion Boulevard, was built somewhat later. The western part is similar to the Central White City, not until 1948. The eastern part dates from the late 1940s to 1960s, and it was built to lower standards, in a period of recession. The southern section of the Northern White City is included in the buffer zone.

The three zones have a consistent representation of Modern Movement architecture, although they differ in character. Zone B was built in the early 1930s, and zone A mainly from the 1930s to the early 1940s. Zone C, the Bialik district, represents local architecture from the 1920s on, with examples of Art Deco and eclecticism, but also a strong presence of 'white architecture'. This small area represents a selection of buildings that became landmarks in the development of the regional language of Tel Aviv's modernism. The buildings reflect influences from the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Erich Mendelsohn. The buildings are characterized by the implementation of the Modernist ideas into the local conditions. The large glazed surfaces of European buildings are reduced to relatively small and strip window openings, more suitable for the hot weather. Many buildings have pilotis, as in Le Corbusier's design, allowing the sea breeze to come through. Other elements include the brise-soleil to cut direct sunlight; the deep balconies served the same purpose, giving shade, as well as adding to the plasticity of the architecture. The flat roofs were paved and could be used for social purposes. A characteristic feature is the use of curbed corners and balconies, expressive of Mendelsohn's architecture. The buildings also include a certain amount of local elements, such as cupolas. The most common building material was reinforced concrete; it had been used since 1912, being suitable for less-skilled workers. Other materials were also introduced, such as stone cladding for the external surfaces, and metal. There was some use of decorative plasters, although decoration became a matter of carefully detailed functional elements, such as balcony balustrades, flower boxes and canopies

Historical context

The Jewish population living in the Ottoman Palestine at the end of the 19th century had mainly come from Spain in the 16th century. Following the First World War, the Palestine territories became a British mandate in 1920. Due to growing anti-Semitism in Europe, large groups of Jewish immigrants started arriving to Palestine in the early 20th century, first from Russia and Poland, and then again from 1933 onwards. The political movement advocating the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, opposing the Diaspora, has been called Zionism.

Tel Aviv's origins go back to the Ottoman Jaffa, a walled city in the midst of agricultural land in the early 19th century. Towards the end of the century, also due to the construction of Suez Canal, Jaffa developed into a commercial harbour, as well as being the port for pilgrims to the Holy Land. A decree of 1856 allowed foreigners to acquire land, which led to the development of suburban areas. The first Jewish settlement north of Jaffa was Neve Zedek, founded in 1887-96. In 1908-09, a group of affluent merchants established Achuzat Bayit as a garden suburb, later named Tel Aviv.

From 1920 to 1925, Tel Aviv's population grew from 2,000 to 34,000, and the construction followed a variety of styles, combined with local Oriental motives. The first master plan (1921) for a new settlement was prepared by Richard Kauffmann. The Scottish architect Patrick Geddes designed a new plan in 1925, which was ratified in 1927 and approved with amendments in 1938. The construction started in the early 1930s; the designers were the newly immigrated architects who had been formed in Europe, and who implemented here the modernist vision. At the same time, the trends in Europe were changing due to new political situations.

The main influences to modernist architecture in Tel Aviv came from the teachings of the Bauhaus (19 architects had studied at the Bauhaus school), and from the examples of Le Corbusier and Erich Mendelsohn. The architects included Joseph Neufeld and Carl Rubin who worked with Mendelsohn, who was a friend of Richard Kauffmann's. Arie Sharon, Shmuel Mistechkin, and Shlomo Bernstein studied at the Bauhaus school; Sam Barkai and Shlomo Bernstein worked in Le Corbusier's office, and Ze'ev Rechter studied in Paris. Dov Karmi, Genia Averbuch, and Benjamin Anekstein were amongst those who studied in Gent and Brussels; others were influenced by Terragni and Pagano in Italy. Mendelsohn worked in Israel from 1934 to 1942 (mainly in Haifa and Jerusalem).

Justification for being a World Heritage Site

Criterion (ii): The White City of Tel Aviv is a synthesis of outstanding significance of the various trends of the Modern Movement in architecture and town planning in the early part of the 20th century. Such influences were adapted to the cultural and climatic conditions of the place, as well as being integrated with local traditions.

Criterion (iv): The new town of Tel Aviv is an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century, adapted to the requirements of a particular cultural and geographic context.

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