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Saving the World's Largest Bauhaus Settlement—In Israel

Hechal Yehuda Synagogue was built in 1979 by architect Itzhak Toledano.

How exactly did the largest collection of International Style buildings come to reside on Tel Aviv's sandy dunes? Micha Gross, the founder of the city's Bauhaus Center, says that it was all about "modern flexibility." Tel Aviv's White City, a neighborhood that boasts a total of 4,000 Bauhaus relics, takes its name from the style's trademark whitewashed aesthetic, and has become a dynamic, habitable testament to the brilliance of Walter Gropius.

But, it might not be for much longer. Urgently in need of renovation, the modernist capital of the Middle East is undeniably threatened. And Germany, an unlikely hero, has stepped in. Last Thursday, Germany pledged a first-funding commitment of over $285,000 to the mayor of Tel Aviv, and there's more to come. In total, Germany wants to spend over $2.8 million to ensure the White City's continued existence. In that spirit, here's a brief primer on Tel Aviv's many modern splendors.

An archival photo of Tel Aviv's White City.

It was the leveling of Jaffa—Palestine's long-gone, much-mourned cultural and economic mecca—that created an unfortunate, but ripe opportunity for Israel's architectural expats. Led by Scottish urban planner Sir Patrick Geddes, a rough drawing of Tel Aviv's White City had emerged by 1929. But the question remained, how would it be designed? That answer emerged in the form of architects like Arieh Sharon.

A protégé of Berlin's Bauhaus, Sharon brought with him a distinctly post-war, functionalist perspective, an emphasis on inexpensive materials, and a thirst for a mythical homeland. Alongside architects like Shmuel Mestechkin, Munio Weinraub, Richard Kauffmann, and Carl Rubin, a staunch Israeli-Bauhaus architectural language emerged that, to this day, remains significant in its untouched utopic splendor.

The Soskin House was designed by Ze'ev Rechter in 1933.

Israel's brand-spankin'-new architectural vanguard had a fairly simple chore: Adapt the Bauhausian aesthetic for a Mediterranean climate. There was a shortage of concrete and iron (read: it was wartime), so they relied instead on sand and limestone. The new regime punctuated monotonous modernist facades with long, narrow balconies and tiny recessed windows, which were necessitated by the desert's harsh climate. Similarly, they did away with the Bauhaus' insistence on dark and moody color palettes, settling instead on a bright white that reflected the sun. Some modern details were left untouched, although their purpose shifted under Tel Aviv's harsh climate. Le Corbusier's pilotis remained, but for a reason he didn't initially intend: The wind that drifted through them cooled the entire home.

House Levy was built in 1935 in the center of Tel Aviv.

Ze'ev Rechter's Krieger House was built in 1934.

Most of Tel Aviv's midcentury titans still remain, but barely. Neglected to the point of ruin, original details—doorframes, shelving, light fixtures that were smuggled out of Germany at the height of WWII—are as priceless as they are threatened. However, there's still hope. The White City is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, the Bauhaus Center set up shop in 2010, Germany has pledged $2.8 million to its care and conservation, and Israel has pledged $68,000 the nascent plan.

Arieh Sharon's 1965 Convalescent Home

Arieh Sharon's memorial Museum in Yad Mordechai

· Bauhaus in Israel [The Bauhaus Center]
· Germany Donates $2.8 Million For Tel Aviv's White City Restorations [Jewish Business News]
· The Influence of Bauhaus on Architecture in Early Palestine and Israel [The New York Times]