Love architecture? Have a knack for being the Peeping Tom into other people’s windows? Then next weekend is your opportunity to catch some glimpses of how other people live in Tel Aviv.
Batim Mibifnim, Houses from Within, is part of the international community of house tours, brought here by local architect Alon Bin-Nun after he attended one of the first Houses from Within weekends in New York City.
“The goal is to promote modern, contemporary architecture,” said Bin-Nun. “We don’t have so much in Tel Aviv, but we want to raise awareness and educate the public.”
Tel Aviv is now well known for its collection of Bauhaus buildings — the austere, streamlined blocks of apartments designed by the city’s first architects, many of them German refugees, who settled in the city in the 1930s and 1940s. The sheer number of Bauhaus-style buildings earned the city its UNESCO stripe, as well as its “White City” nickname.
There’s also a solid number of buildings designed in the International Style, an amalgam of architectural designs gathered from the city’s earliest influences. And lately, locals are coming to appreciate the poured concrete blocks that were put up in the 1950s, said architect Jeremie Hoffman, director of the conservation department at the municipality, when the fledgling state was aiming to quickly settle incoming immigrant groups.
“People used to hate it, because it took them back to their childhoods in the housing projects,” said Hoffman. “But they’re liking it more now, because we’ve seen raw materials used elsewhere.”
Tel Aviv’s Houses from Within shows a different set of buildings each year, explained Bin-Nun, and it can be a struggle to find the right places, as well as owners who are willing to open up their homes to 1,000 or 2,000 strangers.
This year, with 136 different “events,” as the open houses are called, and more than 70,000 participants in the annual trek around the city, Bin-Nun also recommended calling early once registration opens Friday morning, May 16.
“The system opens at 7:00 a.m., and by 7:15 a.m., the best events are closed,” he noted.
Not to worry, however, there will still be plenty to choose from.
Bin-Nun gave a sneak preview to some of the homes being opened to the public next week.
1) As reconfigured by the Dana Oberson Studios (designer Gideon Oberson’s daughter), the Drum apartment (11 Nitzana, Noga neighborhood, Jaffa) is situated in the rounded contours of the former Chevrolet building, originally designed in 1933 by Arab architect Daoud Tallil. There are more than a few Art Deco-like details here, including a four-meter-high ceiling with a grid of 70-centimeter-wide beams. But the standout features of the loft include a long and narrow 17-square-meter balcony that runs most of the perimeter of the apartment, and the ceiling-high, built-in bookcase that reaches the ceiling and is made of original iron beams. It does credit to the building’s industrial past.
2) As Tel Aviv dwellers continue to push the city’s borders southward, architect Ilan Pivko showed off his latest project, four nearly completed serpentine-styled high-rises on the border of Florentine and Jaffa (4 Florentine Street), overlooking the warehouses on the edge of Jaffa. With nearly 300 apartments in the four buildings (as well as a pool and spa in one of them), many are just 55 square meters in size (at NIS 40,000 per square meter), because the original intention was to build for the city’s single dwellers. But Tel Aviv has changed, noted Pivko. “When we started planning this, this location was far south. Now we’re in the middle of the city, and we’ve got lots of families buying here.”
The city needs residential projects, said Hoffman, the conservation architect. “We need a mass of residential projects because demand is so high; there’s a real pressure.”
3) The final stop was at one of the original DIY homes in the city, the Maine Friendship House (10 Auerbach Street), a typical, New England-style wooden house in Jaffa’s American Colony, one of 22 transported by a group of families from Jonesport, Maine, who wanted to help settle the Holy Land at the turn of the century.
Most of the community didn’t make it, and the three blocks of the colony was taken over by the German Templers, until they were forced out by the British during World War II. The neighborhood was mostly abandoned until a Massachusetts couple, Jean and Reed Holmes, decided to make its reclamation their life project. Now the buildings are being restored, and it’s worth a walk around to see the various structures, which includes the new home of Maskit, the reclaimed fashion house (also on Auerbach Street).
4) Need one more thing for this week? Catch the tail end of DocAviv, the annual documentary film festival at Tel Aviv’s Cinematheque. Running through Saturday, there are still two full days’ worth of screenings, including the opportunity to view the winners of the Israeli Competition and the International Competition on Saturday at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Go to the DocAviv site for more information.