Tel Aviv is a city with chutzpah, a loud, gesticulating expression of urban Jewish culture. Revelling in a Mediterranean-style café culture, it has dozens of bars and clubs, all aimed squarely at the under-30s. It doesn’t seem likely to have much in the way of architectural interest – it was only founded in 1909 – or so you’d think. Take a closer look and Tel Aviv reveals a wealth of buildings constructed in the International Style, inspired by the German Bauhaus school. Not as grandiose as its predecessor, Art Deco – indeed, deliberately understated in contrast – the style has its own charm, and abounds in Tel Aviv as nowhere else in the world.
Wandering the streets, you don’t at first see the architecture, but then you start to notice it, and suddenly you’ll see it everywhere – it really is a signature of the city. The International Style’s beauty lies not in ornamentation or grand gestures, but in its no-nonsense crispness: lines are clean, with lots of right angles; decoration is minimal, consisting only of protruding balconies and occasionally flanged edges, designed to cast sharp shadows in the harsh Mediterranean sunlight. It wears whitewash especially well, giving the whole of Tel Aviv an almost Hockneyesque feel with its straight white lines and hard edges, as if someone had turned up the contrast button just a mite too high.
Check it out on Rehov Bialik, a small residential street in the very centre of town. Take a stroll on Sederot Rothschild, a fine 1930s avenue with some very classic Bauhaus buildings. A further wander around the streets in between Bialik and Rothschild yields still more examples of the genre, as does a visit to the more workaday district of Florentin. As cool and stylish as its cafés, Tel Aviv’s architecture reflects the city itself – young, brash and straight to the point. It may not impress at first, but it definitely grows on you.
Even when Israel and Palestine are consumed by conflict, Tel Aviv can seem a world away from trouble, but it’s best to check the situation before you travel.