The International Style in Israel

The international style in Israel is a style of architecture and design that evolved from the modernist stream of 20th-century architecture and was heavily influenced by the Bauhaus school of Architecture that operated in Germany. The style; which by its name was international and one of its most prominent principles were universal; was very successful in the Land of Israel. And was the leading style of construction during the Modern Jewish settlement period. The Jewish motivation of rebuilding the country; and the arrival of many European architects in the fourth and fifth Jewish waves of immigration with new ideas; were well-integrated and realized the ideas of European modernism in a unique and significant way.

The International Style, and modernist architecture in general; were in various versions the ruling style in the country until the late 1970s and an important chapter in the history of Israeli architecture. But the style truly peaked in the 1930s in Israel.

The International Style in Israel: It’s characteristics

So the International style in Israel actually developed in Europe; and was trying to address the social problems in the post-World War I era as a cheap and simple approach to construction. As a result, the distinctive architectural features of the style are functionalism and universality. The style abandoned any unnecessary ornament; and believed in form and aesthetic that rises from the use of the structure. In contrast to traditional architectural styles that were characterized in part by the decoration of the facades. The social idea behind the style was; among other things, its realization throughout the world.

The social perceptions of this style; together with its economical aspect; were very well suited to the Jewish community in Israel. The style has undergone minor changes that have adapted it to construction in Palestine. Chiefly, changes relating to the hot climate in the country. The openings facing south in the buildings were now smaller; Glass walls were hardly used; and the use of balconies was greater than in European buildings.

Some Specific Features of the International Style in Israel

Externally, some of the distinctive motifs of the international style in Israel can be characterized. First, Asymmetry, almost always. The Bauhaus architects believed that the symmetry served the architect and not the residents. So, the building; according to the modernist view; should be functional and serve first and foremost its occupants. Second, flat roofs; unlike tiled roofs, sloping, and convex. Third, windows – only straight windows were used (no arches). Or round windows similar to ship windows. Rather than classic oculus or rosetta. Another distinctive feature is the horizontal prolonged windows and the vertical “thermometer” windows that characterize the staircases.

Also, the balconies characterize the international style of the country versus the European. The balconies were designed in a minimalist way as a “scrape” from the building’s structure. One of the hallmarks of style in the country is also the corner balconies; sometimes rounded balconies facing the street corners. Especially in Tel Aviv, there are many buildings with balconies that are like theater booths symbolically overlooking the street. Shading walls and cornices that prevent the sun to reach the terraces. And vents designed to allow a fresh breeze into the porch. Walls are plastered in white; except in Jerusalem where the buildings were encrusted with Jerusalem stone as required by the British Mandate Municipal Regulation.

Lastly, ship Characteristics – Round windows and balconies of a ship’s deck. The international style is designed to fit all parts of the earth and all its cities. The ship’s characteristic is a characteristic that is recognized throughout the world and is not attributed to a particular city or culture.

International Style in Israel: Historical Background

From the early 1920’s, many architects from Germany; some of them graduates of the Bauhaus school; arrived in the young city of Tel Aviv. And were involved in the design and construction of many buildings in the city. Most of these architects came in the fourth and fifth immigration waves. So their projects was also  building homes for the bourgeois population who came to Israel in great numbers. Now in this context, Tel Aviv was a city of that grew fast with great momentum. And since the country was very socialist; Tel Aviv became a playground for the International style. Following much construction in this style Tel Aviv’s White City was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 2003 by UNESCO.

The International Style In Jerusalem

At the same time, the garden neighborhoods were designed in Jerusalem by architect Richard Kauffmann, who expressed the urbanist concept of the modernist stream. In downtown Jerusalem, many international-style buildings were also built; the best known of which are in the Rehavia neighborhood.

In addition, many of the public buildings and apartments built in West Jerusalem during the British Mandate were designed in this style. Including synagogues such as the Yeshurun ​​Synagogue. In Jerusalem, architects were in many cases forced to adapt the design to the mandatory regulation that required the cladding of Jerusalem stone; and thanks to this, the houses of Rehavia and central Jerusalem are still in good condition today.

International Style in Israel: Tel Aviv ‘White City’

The White City is a common name for some of Tel Aviv’s old areas; where more than 4,000 buildings are associated with the international style of architecture. In fact, this is the world’s largest concentration of buildings of this kind. And also stands out as the city’s design as a Garden City with its wide boulevards and green streets. Most of the international style buildings were erected from the 1930’s until the establishment of the state; by Jewish architects who are mostly from Germany.  Most of the white city buildings are located in the heart of Tel Aviv. In 2003, UNESCO declared that the white city areas of Tel Aviv are a world heritage site.

International Style in Israel: The Bauhaus Foundation Building In 21 Bialik St

On my private tours of Tel Aviv I like to take my guests to see the Bauhaus Foundation. Apart from the beautiful building, we can also visit the private museum on the ground floor of a building built in the International Style in 1934, located on 21 Bialik Street. The display area of 120 square metres (1,300 sq ft) contains furniture and belongings related to the Bauhaus movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s, as well as exhibitions about the International Style. Objects and furniture designed by 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. The museum is open twice a week, on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

As a tour guide I tend to spend about an hour in the museum. Then we can break for lunch in one of the restaurants in the area. In fact the Carmel Market is nearby and there you have a very good Hummus place. I mean Hummus Magen David located exactly in the middle of the Market. It’s delicious; ridiculously cheap; and tahina-heavy with melt-in-your-mouth chickpeas. Also so smart to serve a smaller bowl of hummus with a small side salad to refresh your palate and help avoid the hummus coma. That’s Just how I like it.

International Style in Israel: Max Liebling House (29 Idelson St.)

Nearby there is another building worth stopping by and usually, I stop there during my guided tours of Tel Aviv. Of course I refer to the Max Leibling house; which was the first building in the country to use elongated recessed balconies; an adaptation of Le Corbusier’s strip windows. Horizontality is emphasized by the narrow intervals between the building’s parapet and overhang; not only does this have the design impact of emphasizing the horizontal style; it has the practical effect of screening out the heat of the Mediterranean sun. Moreover, the timbered pergola; a design element frequently seen in Jerusalem, is unusual in Tel Aviv.

In 2014 Max Liebling House was one of the first ten modernist buildings to receive restoration grants under the Getty Foundation’s new “Keeping It Modern” initiative. In 2015 the German government funded the restoration of the House as a museum that would also oversee the restoration and preservation of Tel Aviv’s notable Bauhaus buildings. Tel Aviv’s White City district, a designated World Heritage Site, is the largest collection of German Bauhaus-style buildings found anywhere in the world.

International Style in Israel: Some History About the House

The three-story Liebling House was originally built for contractor Max Liebling and his wife Tony. The couple emigrated from Berlin in 1933 and moved to live at the house when he was inaugurated. The couple lived on the top floor, as well as the pediatrician Prof. Ludwig Ferdinand Meyer and the gynecologist Prof. Joseph (Gustav) Asherman. The house is located on Idelson Street and is located in the area of ​​Bialik Square. In this area, around the square that was once considered the city’s cultural center, a number of historic houses have been built in the past, such as the home of Haim Nachman Bialik, and the city’s town hall.

The building itself was designed by Israel Prize-winning architect Dov Carmi and engineer Zvi Barak; and features distinctive international style features. With the death of Tony Liebling in 1963. Since she was childless, she bequeathed the building to the municipality. For cultural-educational use. In her will, she asked to turn him into a nursery; nursing home or museum. After her death, her nieces Rosa and physician Sabina Liebling lived in the home. For more than 50 years, the building was used for offices and a nursery; among other things, until her will was fulfilled. On my architectural tours of Tel Aviv I tend to stop at least in one of these two centers in order to tell the story of the white city.

International Style in Israel: Engel House (84 Rothschild St.)

Another important landmark regarding the International Style in Israel is the Engel House, located in the heart of Tel Aviv; at 84 Rothschild Boulevard at the corner of Mazeh Street. It is an international-style (Bauhaus) residential building designed by architect Zeev Rechter in 1933. The first one in Israel standing on pillars.

Rechter, who returned from architecture studies in Paris in 1932; was greatly influenced by the approaches of the modernist Le Corbusier. While most of the architects of the period were influenced by the German Bauhaus School; Rechter brought with him the unique approaches of Le Corbusier as part of the modern movement in architecture; which was first expressed in the Engel House. The building was directly influenced by Villa Savoye built only a few years earlier and other ideas that later implemented le Corbusier in the “living unit”.

A Little History About the House

The building was named after landlord Mrs. Sarah Engel (1897-1964) a new immigrant from England who wanted to build a quality apartment for rent. She also lived in one of the apartments. It was designed on a double-size lot in the shape of the letter “open” towards Mazhe Street and creates a small open courtyard at the front of the building. During World War II, the column floor served as a temporary British headquarters.

So I hope you enjoyed this post. There are many more fascinating buildings to see in Tel Aviv that was designed in the International Style. I recommend you to read up about it before you go sightseeing on your own. Or even better just take a private tour guide with you and for sure that would make things much easier. Don’t you think? Usually, when I give my private tours in Tel Aviv I focus on the International Style since there are so many buildings designed in this style.

International Style in Israel: Bonem house in 21 Ramban Street, Jerusalem

The Bonem House is a building in Rehavia. This building is today considered one of the most beautiful buildings designed according to the international style in the Land of Israel. This building was designed for Dr. Paul Bonem, a gynecologist who immigrated to Germany from Germany, by the architect and painter Leopold Krakauer, in 1935. The building was designed in a functional style typical of the International style. Built-in a style reminiscent of a typical Arab village; architect Karkaur was inspired by looking at the nearby Arab villages of Abu Ghosh and Lifta.



Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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