On my recent trip to Israel I planned some extra time to see just a few of the thousand or so Bauhaus stucco buildings that still exist in Tel Aviv. They are not hard to find or identify. Their distinctive features–from balconies, vertical glass stairwells, horizontal bands and rounded forms to the unmistakable stucco exteriors–are dotted all over the city. Clearly, some have had sensitive renovations and others are in a complete state of disrepair.
Israeli architecture was and still is influenced by the International Style modified for the small plots of land available and the climate requirements. Young architects, many of whom attended school at the Bauhaus and were of German extraction, built inexpensive structures using simple geometry. The concrete and stucco exteriors worked especially well in a country lacking skills for more traditional and expensive materials and a very hot and humid climate in the summer. The designs were created to provide lots of shade and natural ventilation by using overhangs, shutters and small window openings sunk into the surface of the wall to reduce glare. Balconies of various sizes and shapes were added.
The main materials were based on cement in the form of different stuccos and plasters. Much of the metal work was produced by local craftsmen and iron workers, though some was imported. The roof was a very important design feature; it was shaded in various ways to make the evenings more bearable. The Bauhaus dictum of non-decorative design meant that functional elements had to serve new aesthetic purposes.
The Bauhaus style lost its popularity after World War II, although some basic features such as the horizontal elements and flat roofs continue to influence architectural styles in the city today. The preservationists are finally at work renovating and extending some of the buildings as they have become aware of their original qualities and the intentions of the founding architects. There is an extraordinary architectural heritage that is only now being discovered and appreciated.
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