The Tel Aviv Project

I recently visited Tel Aviv and was both amazed and fascinated by the beautiful 1930s architecture most people think of as Bauhaus, although it strictly isn't. It tends to get labelled as this because a number of the architects of modern Tel Aviv either trained at, or were influenced by, Walter Gropius' Bauhaus school in the 1920s and 30s. It is often referred to as Tel Aviv Bauhaus - or the International Style and is most evident, of course, in the so-called White City area of central Tel Aviv where the beautifully restored residential and commercial buildings were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003. 


However, as I explored the city I realised that there were many other styles of architecture in evidence, ranging from vernacular Arab and even medieval in Jaffa to Oriental from the 400-year long Ottoman occupation, as well as middle-European, brought over by the first wave of Jewish re-settlers in the 19th century, then finally buildings from the period of the British Mandate, which lasted from 1918 to 1958.


Although modern Tel Aviv was only officially founded in 1906 much of the above was there before, created as overspill from the port of Jaffa, either by act of war (that today would be called ethnic cleansing) or simply by people moving out to create some living space from what was by the end of the 19th century, becoming a dangerous medieval slum.


Much of this late 19th and early 20th century development is in what is now south Tel Aviv and ranges from the urbane, shady cobbled streets of Neve Tzedek, with its lovely southern European style houses, trendy restaurants and upmarket designer shops, to artistic, vibrant and funky Florentin, where rents used to be cheap and many buildings remain fairly ramshackle, but which has developed into the scruffy but strongly beating bohemian heart of Tel Aviv.  


On the edge of Florentin too, is an area of old workshops and studios where you can still have anything made to order, from an anodised tin tray to a bespoke sofa. Unfortunately, as is often the case with town planners, this originally working-class quarter doesn't always fit in with the image the powers that be would like to present to the outside world - especially when it's rubbing shoulders with something as pristine as the White City!  


I realised that many of these older more functional yet still attractive buildings might be in danger of 'redevelopment' -  which is fine if it's done sensitively, but which sadly, is all too often a euphemism for demolition. I therefore decided that I would photograph as many of the old houses, workers apartment blocks and workshops as I could before they're either restored or redeveloped.


And this is the essence of the project: to return to Tel Aviv and finish the story, the beginning of which is documented here. The ultimate aim being to produce a photo book documenting disappearing Tel Aviv with accompanying exhibition - somewhere.

See more images in the Stock/gallery section

Recommended reading: White City Black City - Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa by Sharon Rotbard (Pluto Press, 2015)

© Copyright Phil Curry 2017  Sandwich, UK     +44 (0) 7904270274

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