Although it is a young city founded in 1909, Tel Aviv became in 2003 one of the eight modern sites declared by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites. UNESCO’s international recognition of Tel Aviv’s uniqueness was the follow-up to the discovery that Israel’s commercial and cultural capital contains the highest concentration in the world of structures built in the International Style, a modernistic architectural style and perception better known as Bauhaus, which is also the name of the famous architectural school in German where this style developed. Over 4,000 structures built in the International Style were erected in Tel Aviv between 1920 and 1960; they were part of a massive urban plan that also included green areas within the city’s municipal boundaries. The International Style of architecture in Tel Aviv was first recognized in the mid-1990s following a conference that was held there in 1994 and which was attended by hundreds of architects and archeological historians from around the world. Nonetheless, UNESCO’s recognition is what has brought about a major boost to Tel Aviv’s status in the world.
The International Style is characterized by simple, functional construction that focuses on enabling the structure to fulfill its particular role, without any unnecessary ornamentation; a Bauhaus structure has straight lines or simple circles without any attempt at symmetry and with an emphasis on universal construction that can fit into any area in the world – hence, the name of this architectural style. The structures erected in Tel Aviv, which is situated on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and is blessed with many sunny days, are three- to five-story buildings with ventilation shafts that facilitate the flow of air and with shading walls to protect the residents from the scorching Mediterranean sun. Tel Aviv was first referred to as the White City in 1984 when the Tel Aviv Museum of Art held an exhibition entitled “White City,” which refers not only to Tel Aviv’s International Style of architecture but also and primarily to the white plaster used on the exterior of many of its apartment houses and office buildings. The four decades between 1920 and 1960 saw the erection of thousands of structures planned by Jewish architects who had arrived in Mandatory Palestine from Europe where they had studied at world-famous schools of architecture, including the Bauhaus art school in Germany; before arriving in Palestine, they had worked with the best of the modernist architects, such as, for example, Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Among the architects who were active in the country at the time were Genia Averbuch, Arieh El-Hanani, Arieh Sharon, Dov Carmi, Zeev Rechter and Joseph Neufeld.
UNESCO has divided Tel Aviv’s White City area into three separate zones: the central White City, Lev Ha’ir and Rothschild Blvd., and the Bialik Area. Most of the White City is located to the west of Ibn Gvirol Street, between Salma Street in the south and the Yarkon River in the north. Rothschild Boulevard is the central traffic artery in the White City and serves as a striking example of the Bauhaus style with its hundreds of structures that have been preserved and renovated over the past few years. Among the White City’s most celebrated structures are the Cooperative Workers Residences on Frug Street; the Esther Cinema, the Chen Cinema, Mahle House and Mirenberg House in the vicinity of Dizengoff Square; Haonia House on Levanda Street near the intersection of Hamassger and Harakevet streets; Polischuk House and the Haaretz Printing House at 56 Mazeh Street; and residential properties at 69 Dizengoff St. and 9 Gordon St. The declaration designating Tel Aviv’s White City area as a World Heritage site has led to a boom in tourism, construction, historical preservation and business activity, as well as to an unprecedented increase in research studies, art exhibitions and publications on the subject of the White City. A small museum housed in Reuven House on Bialik Street documenting the history of the International Style of architecture has been founded; celebrated architect Ron Arad was in charge of the interior decorations. In 2013, an exhibition on the White City was held at the State Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and, in 2014, an exhibition on the White City was held at the Museum of Finnish Architecture in Helsinki.