Tel Aviv White City Architecture Tour, Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv White City Architecture Tour (Self Guided), Tel Aviv

The White City area of Tel Aviv gives a good insight into a particular form of architecture that came out of Germany in the 1930s. The first Jewish settlers coming to the city brought the hottest architecture of the time with them; in fact, there are around 4,000 Bauhaus or International-style buildings in Tel Aviv. Some of these buildings also feature elements that are typical of Modernism, but are defined separately, as they follow more rigorous rules of volume expression, visual balance and non-ornamentation.

The best examples of Bauhaus in Tel Aviv are found on the Dizengoff Square, around Bialik Square, and along the Rothschild Boulevard – some more impressive than others, as included in this self-guided walk. There are, however, many other White City buildings on the side streets, and with just a little bit of knowledge about the design period's characteristics, you can easily spot them.
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Tel Aviv White City Architecture Tour Map

Guide Name: Tel Aviv White City Architecture Tour
Guide Location: Israel » Tel Aviv (See other walking tours in Tel Aviv)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: max
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Dizengoff Circus
  • Cinema Hotel
  • Bialik Square
  • Beit Ha'ir Museum
  • Liebling House – White City Center
  • Bauhaus Foundation
  • Bet Bialik House Museum
  • HaBima Square (Kikar HaBima)
  • Rubinsky House
  • Engel House
  • 61 Rothschild Boulevard
  • Rothschild Boulevard
Dizengoff Circus

1) Dizengoff Circus

Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus art school, which originated in Weimar Germany in 1919, the city of Tel Aviv successfully completed the restoration of Dizengoff Circus – likely the world's only "Bauhaus Piazza" – to its original design created by architect Genia Averbuch. Inaugurated in 1938 and regarded as the White City's traditional center, this place is striking for its simple layout: a round space, surrounded by nearly identical buildings, featuring curvilinear horizontal slit balconies.

Complete with lawns, benches and the renowned Fire and Water sculpture fountain at its center, the simple, elegant architectural language of this beautifully renovated square makes it a paradigm of local modernist architecture. Whenever strolling around it, you will find plenty of locals and tourists of all ages lolling about on the grass, taking a breather on one of the benches or simply using the place as a convenient, traffic-free thoroughfare.

Conveniently located at the circle, LA SHUK (open daily: 12 noon – 12 midnight) is a great place to get a feel of Tel-Aviv's ambiance, cuisine, and service. Favorites include sea fish carpaccio and tartar, perfectly cooked fish and seafood flavored with local spices.
Cinema Hotel

2) Cinema Hotel

A former Bauhaus cinema centrally located in Dizengoff Square, this remarkable International-style construction with undulating balconies and geometric windows has been creatively renovated into a charming boutique hotel, and features film-themed decor and exhibits of vintage cameras and projectors, along with a gallery documenting the building's history. As a guest, you are witness to the memories of the famous Esther Cinema – one of the first movie halls in Tel Aviv – and to the new building that now houses it, which remains preeminent even amongst the city's abundance of UNESCO-recognized early twentieth-century architecture.

Although at the time of their construction, all the buildings around Dizengoff Square had a different purpose, they were carefully planned to form a circle, be three stories high, and have the same style of façade – despite the voiced concerns of some contemporary critics, who debated that a shared façade would go against the principles of modernist architecture. As the exhibition literature notes, "The use of concrete was a popular choice for Bauhaus/International-style architects, and the flowing concrete strips highlight a horizontal movement between the balconies and external walkways of each building in one continuous movement." Furthermore, its columns and pilotis (supports that lift a building above the ground or a body of water), are "typical of the local Bauhaus style."

Frishman Street (a few blocks from the hotel) takes you to the beach and the spectacular boardwalk.
Bialik Square

3) Bialik Square

Renovated in 2009, the small round Bialik Square is today a popular place, and together with surrounding buildings is an object of UNESCO World Heritage. More specifically, there are four architecturally-notable museums on its sides, of which one is the house where the greatest Hebrew poet of modern times, Chaim Nachman Bialik settled upon immigrating to Israel; another is the striking "old" town hall now housing exhibits on the city's development; and you also have the Bauhaus Museum and the Liebling Haus, both nicely capturing the essence of a Bauhaus building and inviting to explore their fascinating story from several perspectives.

Historically, the square is an integral part of the eponymous street, itself regarded as an urban museum, with architecture that ranges wildly from eclectic to Bauhaus. When not drawing in locals with a concert or dance party, the charming tree-lined street provides the opportunity for a little intimate stroll; you can spend some time walking around, sip a tasty coffee or go for a traditional meal nearby at a cozy café... Time here stands still if you allow it to, if only for a moment.
Beit Ha'ir Museum

4) Beit Ha'ir Museum

Constructed in 1925 and initially destined to be a hotel, this architectural pearl in the picturesque Bialik Square has served various purposes, but is more widely known as the house of the first Mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff ("Beit Ha'ir" literally means "the town's home"). With shows and events mostly during holidays, it contains (and is ideal for) permanent displays about the city's history, culture and architecture while also acting a stage for local and international artists, creators and intellectuals to showcase their works.

The museum traces the city's history from when the first Jews (66 families) arrived on 11 April 1909, and through following decades of urban development, so check out the interactive timeline display to gain some historical insight. Among other things, there are pictures from family albums, culled from tens of thousands sent in by people who live – or once lived – in Tel Aviv, and a fabulous collection of colorful tiles taken from floors of the city's earliest dwellings. Take the elevator – or winding stairs – up to the Dizengoff Room, restored just as it was when used as the official office of the first mayor – and with a great view of the city!

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 9am–5pm; Fri, Sat: 10am–2pm
Liebling House – White City Center

5) Liebling House – White City Center

Part of Tel Aviv's Bauhaus-style modernist heritage, the recently restored multi-family house by Tony and Max Liebling dates to 1936 and was most notable for being the first building in Israel to use elongated recessed balconies, an adaptation of Le Corbusier's strip windows. Apart from emphasizing the horizontal style, the narrow intervals between the building's parapet and overhang have the added practical effect of screening out the heat of the Mediterranean sun. The timbered pergola, a design element frequently seen in Jerusalem, is quite unusual for Tel Aviv.

Inside, the apartment building retains its original appearance; only the ground-floor room had its walls removed, in order to make room for the permanent exhibition and children's workshop area. Such apartments, with their high ceilings, opening to the shaded 'ribbon balconies', are normally hard to find today, as in most cases, the interior spaces have been changed beyond recognition.

The free audio app takes visitors on a self-guided tour exploring dozens of architectural elements and details (including the well-preserved – and extremely functional! – sanitary rooms), while also touching on the building's personal, cultural, economic, political, and social aspects as narrated by professionals, city residents, and members of the families who once lived here.

Completing the experience are the interesting art installations, the wonderful roof terrace, and the pretty café (plus garden) with its tempting delicacies – so if you care for building conservation, architecture, art, history, rooftop vistas, or even food, the Liebling House is certainly a place for you to visit.

Opening Hours (free entry):
Sun‭, ‬Mon‭, ‬Wed‭, ‬Thu: 8am–7pm; Tue: 8am–9pm; Fri: 8am–2pm; Sat: 10am–6pm
Bauhaus Foundation

6) Bauhaus Foundation

The Bauhaus Foundation in Tel Aviv has a private museum on the ground floor of a classic International Style building owned by American billionaire, businessperson, art collector and philanthropist Ronald Lauder. Perfectly preserved, the balanced cubic structure's prominent features – seen as outlandishly innovative back when it was erected in 1934 – are its unique shaded balconies, supported by a continuous square of vertical and horizontal pillars.

The display area of 120 sq m (1,300 sq ft) contains furniture, graphics, lamps, glass and ceramic ware related to the Bauhaus movement of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as exhibitions about the International Style. Objects and furniture designed by famous artists such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius are included. The exhibits were loaned by private collections, mainly Lauder's own one.

Admission is free, but beware: it's open only twice a week!

Opening Hours (free entry):
Wed: 11am–5pm; Fri: 10am–2pm
Bet Bialik House Museum

7) Bet Bialik House Museum

Haim Nachman Bialik, a Hebrew poet and painter, was a great inspiration to the younger generation of Hebrew poets. A house in which he lived until his death in 1934 is now a famous museum in Tel Aviv. It holds a special place in the hearts of Israelis who flock here to pay homage to the incredibly gifted artist. If you plan on a trip to Tel Aviv, a visit here should not be missed.

The Bet Bialik House is also a major architectural icon renowned for its unique combination of Mideastern and international styles. The museum comprises the poet’s library, dining room and writing room, all preserved exactly the same as they were when the owner still lived here.

The library contains all 94 books written by Bialik, complete with their translations in 28 languages. The collection also includes letters, photographs, paintings and other artifacts showcasing life during the pre-independence period. The museum guides speak Yiddish or Hebrew only. There is, however, a brochure in English. The admission is free.

Why You Should Visit:
A charming place, great for those wanting to see something different from a 'typical' museum.

The Bialik House sits on the same block as the Reuven Rubin museum which is yet another lovely house museum showcasing his artwork.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 9am-5pm; Fri-Sat: 10am-2pm
HaBima Square (Kikar HaBima)

8) HaBima Square (Kikar HaBima)

Named after Israel's National Theatre, HaBima Square is a great public space mixing minimalistic design with usability and effectively acting as one of the city's focal points. Although on New Year's Eve (Hanukkah celebrations) it usually buzzes with activities and performances for the entire family, most times you'll just want to have a break from exploring while taking in the surroundings.

Despite the landscaping design being fairly recent, this is the location where the first master plan of Tel Aviv – as proposed by Patrick Geddes in the late 1920s – envisioned a kind of a "modern Acropolis" that would stand for the city's cultural core; hence, the cornerstone of HaBima Theatre was laid here in 1935, and the Frederick R. Mann Auditorium (renamed in honor of Charles R. Bronfman in 2013) soon followed. In keeping with the Bauhaus/International style, the impressive buildings are a part of the White City and intended for preservation as UNESCO world heritage sites.

Take some time to explore the various aspects of the square, from the more intimate corners of the sunken garden (there's a nice tendency for classical music to be piped out of the small recessed flower bed) to the water basin and the many restaurants and coffee shops around. Try to avoid the sunny hours, however, as the glare of the sun and the white paving don't make for the best match.

To the north of the square sits the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion, a 1959 Bauhaus-style building for temporary exhibitions of contemporary local and international art.
Rubinsky House

9) Rubinsky House

Designed in 1935 and restored in 2008, Rubinsky House symbolizes the birth of 'Israeli Bauhaus'. The first thing to note about it are the rows of hanging columns leading into the stairwell. This three-block residential building was, in fact, the first structure to obtain permits for such columns which, by favoring pragmatism and simplicity over beauty, quickly became the standard of modern construction throughout Israel.

Contrary to the spirit of Bauhaus, however, the street facades on Shenkin Street borrow elements from Modernism, here made evident in the awnings, rounded terraces and windows, hanging concrete beams and gutters, as well as scraped plaster with a glittering mineral aggregate typical of the period, all serving as decorative elements. The lobby, with its majestic staircase, leads to spacious apartments, but also to a new rooftop penthouse, which is not as immediately apparent from the street.
Engel House

10) Engel House

At Rothschild 84, the large residential Engel House, designed in 1933 by prolific architect Ze'ev Rechter, is mainly remembered by the public as "the building that put Tel Aviv up on pillars", allowing for better ventilation (through the shaded area) as well as for visual contact between the boulevard and the courtyard – thus giving the illusion of additional space within a densely populated city.

Inspired by Bauhaus/Modernist designs but adapted to the environment, the U-shaped building has protruding window frames to create shade – a substitute for the wide windows favored in Europe, which are unsuitable to Israel's climate. On the other hand, the roof – originally a communal space – once had a nice solarium and a gym, thus illustrating Le Corbusier's concept of the 'roof terrace'.

Having gotten frayed in the Mediterranean sun for many years, Engel House is finally back to its heyday, following a long and meticulous restoration.
61 Rothschild Boulevard

11) 61 Rothschild Boulevard

With its quirky asymmetrical design and wild roof garden, 61 Rothschild Boulevard sets off the three front apartment blocks from one another, adding dimension to the facade while also taking into account the tenants' privacy. This feature disrupts the exterior continuity of the buildings along the Rothschild Boulevard while doing well to integrate a large shared garden in front. The corner windows are optimally exposed to daylight but also fitted with shade-providing floating pergolas – a typical International Style appendage. Though aligned with the original design, the metal-and-glass rooftop apartment (included in the 2006 preservation project) is greatly set back from the facade, thus hidden from the boulevard.
Rothschild Boulevard

12) Rothschild Boulevard (must see)

Strolling along the wide Rothschild Boulevard, you'll see lots of people of all kinds, a small pool, historical sites like the “Independence Hall” from which the 1948 Proclamation of Independence was originally read (with statues on the balcony to simulate that), and, of course, many Bauhaus buildings – some better preserved than others. Almost like all the boulevards in Tel Aviv, it has become a sort of urban park with blankets spread out on the grass and many coffee shops in the middle as well as along it.

Adjacent to the famous Engel House, one of the most visually pleasing buildings on the boulevard is the state-of-the-art Braun-Rabinsky building, which stands out for its razor-sharp lines and a thermometer-like stairwell window that's dramatically illuminated at night. At no. 71, you may spot the recently renovated Krieger House, its distinctive sunken balconies forming a strikingly attractive contrast with the façade's white surface, while at the intersection of Allenby St, you may even see a public expression of cultural/religious affinity: the large ceramic murals depict scenes of biblical agricultural activities, forming an integral part of the architecture.

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