The White City in the Sand

Villa with roof garden in the white city of Tel Aviv

The city of Tel Aviv in Israel is a planned city, built in the sand dunes along the coast, north of the ancient city of Jaffa. While settlement began in the 1880s during the Ottoman reign, the city grow rapidly after it came under the British mandate of what was then Palestine. The Scottish town planning pioneer Patrick Geddes design a garden city masterplan for the city.

Leading up to the nazi takeover in Germany in 1933, many jews fled to Palestine, arriving via the port of Jaffa. Among them were architects trained at the Bauhaus school of architecture and design. The Bauhaus ideals became dominant in the architecture of the new and rapidly growing city which is now the world’s largest UNECO world heritage site for modernist architecture.

The white, cubist style of modernist architecture proved very adaptable to the local clilmate; in fact much more so than in colder and rainier Europe. Some may say this isn’t strange, as much of the inspiration for for Le Corbusier and other ideological fathers of the modernist style came from the Southern Mediterranean rim in countries like Algeria and Morocco, as mentioned in my post on architecture and urban design in Rabat.

A prominent feature of the modernist style is the “hovering” first floors as the buildings have columns allowing the landscape to “flow” under the buildings. While this rarely produced anything but dark and windy areas and a breaking of the relation between the interior and exterior of buildings in Europe, the open loggias at ground level are said to have been formative of a particular lifestyle in Tel Aviv.

Alledgedly, in the early days of the new city, social life during late afternoons and evenings unfolded in the ground floor loggias of the modernist villas of this garden city, as they provided a cool and pleasant space in the otherwise hot climate of the arid sand dune landscape. And even today, Tel Aviv is renowned for its nightlife which carries on into the small hours of the night. Whether this is more than a myth or not, it is a nice thought that an architectural feature may so distinctively have triggered a cultural practice. At least to an architect.

My photos from Tel Aviv, unfortunately, are a bit dark and gray, due to the weather and time of day when I had the chance to explore the city.

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