Architecture and design draw tourists to Tel AvivPRIME – August 2013
By Judy Polan
Special to PRIME
Located on the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, just an hour from ancient Jerusalem, the modern, exuberant city of Tel Aviv hums with energy, and – with its plethora of art galleries, museums, theaters, concert halls, design shops, cafés and markets – is a magnet for tourists of all ages and nationalities. The New York Times dubbed it "the capital of Mediterranean cool," National Geographic calls Tel Aviv "Miami Beach on the Med" (it's popular with retirees as well as hipsters), and it has been named one of the world's "top party cities" by Forbes Magazine and the Lonely Planet Travel Guide.
Committed to accessibility, Tel Aviv is also noted as "a great city for disabled travel" by disabledtravelers.com. They add, "Israel places enormous importance on providing comfortable conditions for travelers with disabilities." And equally committed to diversity, it trumped even New York in a 2011 poll (conducted by GayCities.com) for "Best Gay City in the World;" its annual over-the-top Pride Parade draws thousands of boisterous participants from all over the world.
Perhaps the biggest jewel in the city's crown, though, is its celebrated White City – the striking group of neighborhoods that comprises the largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings in the world. Together, they contain more than 4,000 individual white cement structures, designed in the distinctive sleek, curved-corner style that embodies international Modernism.
The city's architectural riches have become more and more of a draw to art and design aficionados, and this year the White City celebrates the 10th anniversary of its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (The only other modern city afforded this honor is Brasilia, the futuristic capital of Brazil.) Homes are being scrubbed and spiffed up to put their best faces forward; anniversary festivities include open houses, special exhibitions, talks and all-night f tes.
The original Bauhaus School was located in Weimar, Germany, and many of its Jewish students and faculty fled to Israel when the Nazi regime gained a foothold in their country. (The Nazis disbanded the school in 1933, deeming Modernism itself to be "decadent, intellectual, Jewish trash.") The exiled architects arrived in Israel just as the establishment and construction of modern Tel Aviv was taking place; thus the Bauhaus (or "International") style found full expression there. Nearly all of Tel Aviv's White City was built during the years spanning the late 1920s through the mid-1950s.
The immigrant architects adapted the spare, sculptural forms of the Bauhaus style to fit the conditions of life in a hot, intensely sunlit Mediterranean city. They created facades with airways and shading ledges, placing windows and doors opposite each other for cross-ventilation. They positioned small windows facing westward to capture refreshing sea breezes, and employed pilotis (stilt-like columns) to elevate buildings above street level, thereby creating space for airflow and courtyard gardens. Simple white concrete was nearly always used as a basic building material; it was locally available and inexpensive, as well as being the material that best allowed the designers to realize their Modernist vision.
The best way to enjoy a leisurely walking tour of the White City would be to stop in first at the Bauhaus Center, located at 99 Dizengoff St. (Hours and other pertinent information are available at www.bauhaus-center.com ) The staff there is happy to provide multilingual (English, Russian, German, French and Italian) audio guides, directions, and free maps; and more elaborate guidebooks can be purchased at their shop. The Center offers free tours for English speakers every Friday at 10 a.m. Tours are also offered by the TA Tourist Authority every Saturday at 11 a.m. (Meeting point: 46 Rothschild Blvd., corner of Shadal Street)
If you prefer to wander on your own, the "must see" streets are Rothschild Boulevard (and the surrounding area of Sheinkin), Dizengoff, Bialik, Mazeh and Kalisher.
There are, of course, many other pleasures to be found when visiting Tel Aviv. Some of my favorite places/activities are the always-hopping Nachalat Binyamin Arts and Crafts Fair, open on Tuesdays and Fridays (with ongoing entertainment provided by street musicians, jugglers, and gymnasts); wandering around the ancient alleyways of Old Jaffa, juice stands (choose any combination of fresh fruits to custom-make your juice – I loved pomegranate-pear-apple); ubiquitous falafel joints; the radically modern Tel Aviv Museum of Art; street side café life; the Mann Auditorium (home of the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta); Molly Bloom's Irish Pub; and walking on the beachside promenade.
If I were 30 years younger I would then dance the night away at one of Tel Aviv's glitzy clubs or discos. But instead I'll have dinner at a fine restaurant – choosing from a multitude of ethnic cuisines – and end up with a good night's sleep at one of the city's many hotels, preferably in a sea view room!
For a continuously updated calendar of Tel Aviv events, check out www.visit-tel-aviv-yafo.com before your visit.
Judy Polan (judypolan.com) is a freelance design writer, editor and book reviewer who contributed for many years to Style 1900, Modernism and Berkshire Living magazines. She is also a contributor to The Workbench Life, a new e-zine focused on home interiors and improvement projects.