A Brief Architectural Introduction to the Colourful ‘White City’

by Gili Merin | 14.09.14

Aa a sandy Garden-City turned global-metropolis, Tel Aviv is constantly driven by an irrepressible desire to invent itself anew; a living organism of urbanism, fed by its inhabitants, enriched by its designers and transformed by its architects. It is these architects that this blog is dedicated to: Weekly interviews will reveal the process and insight behind the local ‘Telavivian Architects’, constantly challenged by the local conditions and inherently driven by a need to define a signature identity, their work is the ultimate maker of this city. What are the components of this rich mosaic of styles and textures? A brief architectural introduction to the now-colourful ‘White City’, in the first post of the blog, below.


Yes, Tel Aviv IS known as the ‘White City’ – It boasts over 4,000 International Style buildings – but it is not nearly a monochromatic Bauhaus colony: The Eclectic Style which precedes it, embraced, essentially, all ornaments known to the architects of the time: domes, arches, columns, or all of the above: East met West on the shores of the mediterranean, and nearly 800 buildings, such as the magnificent Pagoda House, were built in the city in the 1920’s.

Then the somewhat-utopian, nearly-totalitarian International Style came along, and swept everything in stucco-white: it was time for rapid construction and Bauhaus was the answer. Simple geometrical forms and a complete rejection of ornaments erased the visual cacophony; its idealism encapsulated the socialist agenda of the newborn society.

Exposed concrete replaced the plaster white, texture replaced de-materiality, and the White City turned grey: Following World War II and the declaration of independence in 1948, Brutalism became the predominant style in the newly established state. Sober, economical, and coarse, the use of exposed concrete was emblematic of the “New Israeli” – incredibly raw and unapologetic direct. As architect Zvi Efrat said: “(it) is certainly not local, but it’s authentic in every sense.” [1]

In the 1990’s Tel Aviv grew into the city we know today: Construction of iconic landmarks by ‘starchitects’, luxurious residential towers and glassy office buildings rise alongside restorations of Eclectic and International style buildings: The city’s latest phase of evolution has turned it into a wild juxtaposition of old, new and renewed, attracting students, artists, entrepreneurs, and young families into what has become the most wanted residential real estate in the country.


All photos in this post are by the author, Gili Merin

[1] Prof. architect Zvi Efrat,  “The Israeli Project: Construction and Architecture 1948-1973”



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