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Zionist Architecture and Town Planning: The Building of Tel Aviv (1919 - 1929)

Nathan Harpaz
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  • Book Info
    Zionist Architecture and Town Planning
    Book Description:

    Established as a Jewish settlement in 1909 and dedicated a year later, Tel Aviv has grown over the last century to become Israel’s financial center and the country’s second largest city. This book examines a major period in the city’s establishment when Jewish architects moved from Europe, including Alexander Levy of Berlin, and attempted to establish a new style of Zionist urbanism in the years after World War I. The author explores the interplay of an ambitious architectural program and the pragmatic needs that drove its chaotic implementation during a period of dramatic population growth. He explores the intense debate among the Zionist leaders in Berlin in regard to future Jewish settlement in the land of Israel after World War I, and the difficulty in imposing a town plan and architectural style based on European concepts in an environment where they clashed with desires for Jewish revival and self-identity. While “modern” values advocated universality, Zionist ideas struggled with the conflict between the concept of “New Order” and traditional and historical motifs. As well as being the first detailed study of the formative period in Tel Aviv’s development, this book presents a valuable case study in nation-building and the history of Zionism. Meticulously researched, it is also illustrated with hundreds of plans and photographs that show how much of the fabric of early twentieth-century Tel Aviv persists in the modern city.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-297-1
    Subjects: History, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book examines advanced architectural plans motivated by Zionist ideas and the implementation of these plans driven by pragmatic needs. The balance between these forces shaped the architecture and town planning in the Land of Israel after World War I. In this work I concentrate on postwar Zionist building concepts as they are represented in architect Alexander Levy’s plan,Building and Housing in New Palestine,and the implementation of eclectic architecture and chaotic town planning in Tel Aviv in the 1920s. The city of Tel Aviv, as a new entity that served almost as a laboratory for modern experimentation during...

  3. Part 1: Theories on Zionist Architecture and Town Planning

    • Chapter 1 The Concept of Modernity in Early Twentieth-Century Architecture and Town Planning
      (pp. 9-18)

      The examination of architects and movements of early modern architecture and town planning is a vital part of this study. European architects and town planners significantly influenced the urban vision of the Zionist movement in theory, on such projects as the Levy plan (1920), on the implementation of plans such as the garden city (Tel Aviv, 1909) and Geddes’s town planning (1929), and on the extensive use of the International Style (1930s).

      Modern architecture emerged in the early twentieth century with a dramatic change in the relationship between aesthetics and function. It followed the concept of “form follows function” and...

    • Chapter 2 The Zionist Movement’s Approach to Advanced Plans in Architecture and Town Planning
      (pp. 19-26)

      Zionism, a utopian conception that also borrowed humanitarian concepts from socialism, is the ideology behind the settlement of Jews in Palestine during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. The methods of establishing settlement companies and purchasing lands, building practices, architectural styles, and town planning were all inspired by Zionist concepts.

      Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), the founder of the Zionist movement, expressed his utopian ideas inThe Jewish State(1896). In the third chapter of this book, Herzl suggests the establishment of a “Jewish Company” to execute Zionist ideas. According to this plan, The Jewish Company would focus on...

    • Chapter 3 Zionist Architecture and Town Planning in the Early Twentieth Century
      (pp. 27-30)

      The lack of previous traditions in Zionist architecture for the new-old homeland forced architects to borrow principles and techniques from contemporary architecture. These imported principles and methods were adjusted to local factors and adapted to the architects’ styles. Planning ideals in the early days of Zionist projects were conflicted by the need for physical expression of the new social structures and the demand for mass housing for new immigrants, as well as the shortage of funds. Major influences on early Zionist architecture and town planning were utopians such as Patrick Geddes and Tony Garnier. Other inspirations were architects such as...

  4. Part 2: Alexander Levy:: Building and Housing in New Palestine, Berlin 1920

    • Chapter 4 The Origins of the Plan
      (pp. 33-40)

      Alexander Levy’sBuilding and Housing in New Palestineis the most comprehensive proposal for inexpensive and rapid building construction in the early days of the Zionist movement. It meticulously and methodologically reviews the most advanced European theories and studies relevant to the topic and concludes with concrete and realistic recommendations for implementation. The plan covers such topics as the role of the company in initiating and executing building construction, the crucial availability of materials, the presentation of different types of accommodations, and the utilization and standardization of materials and labor techniques.

      Architect Alexander Levy (1883–1942) expressed interest in Zionism...

    • Chapter 5 The Building Company
      (pp. 41-46)

      The building company is an essential component in Levy’s proposal. Levy perceived the local Jewish organizations in Palestine as unprofessional and unreliable. He insisted that only an efficient company equipped with expertise in the building industry would be able to execute future mass housing.

      Construction projects would be commissioned by private sources or corporations and be financed by them. They would use plans designed by clients or by the architectural or engineering departments of the company in Palestine. The subcontracting of work would be specific to different trades such as bricklaying or carpentry. The company, as trustee for the clients,...

    • Chapter 6 The Crucial Matter of Building Materials
      (pp. 47-54)

      Another vital component to inexpensive housing was the selection of appropriate building materials. Levy analyzes the cost of building materials as a crucial economic factor in mass housing. He claims that Ernst Herrmann, originally from Berlin, who operated a cement-block factory in Haifa, failed to produce hollow cement blocks, despite incredible effort, because his process did not match the cost of much cheaper limestone. Levy recommends organizing the purchase of a large amount of materials and using local resource materials to prevent future failures.¹

      The Levy plan sees urgency in the shipment of basic building materials, such as coarse timber,...

    • Chapter 7 Models of Houses
      (pp. 55-82)

      Another key element in Levy’s proposal was the creation of types or models of houses. The presentation of different accommodations for the new immigrants in Palestine was the core of the plan, and Levy describes in the lengthiest section of his book several prototypes of housing: temporary units, start-up models, and middle-class and upscale houses.

      Residential construction had to satisfy housing needs for all immigrants and change the current shortage of housing that was in existence even before the war, when only 3,000 Jews per year arrived to Palestine. Before the war it was already common practice for landlords to...

    • Chapter 8 The Arrangement of Houses
      (pp. 83-94)

      After presenting the various models of accommodations, Levy’s plan examines how to arrange the units to attain a preferred appearance and comfort, but also to insure cost reduction. It goes beyond the process of the design from the individual unit to a basic formula of town planning.

      In urban or suburban settlements the preferred setting was the implementation of single family houses arranged as row houses over multistoried apartment buildings whose costs were still unknown. Row houses were a better choice because they would be more economical in terms of both money and space, and their design would reflect a...

    • Chapter 9 Standardization in the Building Industry
      (pp. 95-102)

      The discussion of building materials, model houses, and unit arrangements leads to standardization as a tool for inexpensive and rapid housing. Levy rejected the common conception that unification and standardization of the building industry would lead to the elimination of individuality among living spaces. His experience suggested that persons able to manipulate idiosyncrasies would also be able to personalize each project: “It is therefore, far easier to personalize a standardized house with standardized furnishings, and do so with good taste, than it might have been before with only badly made kitsch at hand.”¹

      Levy thought it would be wise to...

    • Chapter 10 A Comparison of Levy’s Proposal to Other Plans
      (pp. 103-112)

      Levy’s methods of promoting his ideas by displaying blueprints and models in exhibitions, flyers, magazines, and eventually in book format were associated with the extensive activities of German architects and building engineers before the war. One of the largest exhibitions of this kind was the Third German Applied Arts Exhibition in Dresden in 1906. In keeping with the common concept at that time that architectural models should differ for different social classes, workers’ housing proposals were exhibited separately. Architect Max Taut (1884– 1967), for example, proposed workers’ housing in the form of single cottages for the purpose of elevating their...

    • Chapter 11 The Failure of Levy’s Plan
      (pp. 113-114)

      In the conclusion of his plan, Levy stated that his writing was an attempt to convey to the reader the broadest picture of the basic principles and developmental possibilities of the Palestinian construction company. The conclusion was a result of scientific and technical studies regarding the business activities of the company: “We hope that our reader has obtained the impression from our explanations that we are leaving nothing to chance in terms of the development of our company, and that we will not be led by the varying needs of the day nor the conventions passed down that require nothing...

  5. Part 3: Eclectic Architecture and Chaotic Town Planning in Tel Aviv, 1919-1929

    • Chapter 12 The Garden City of Ahuzat-Bayit
      (pp. 117-128)

      The growth of the Jewish population in Jaffa in the late nineteenth century stimulated new solutions for housing. The demolition of the old walls of the city of Jaffa during the 1890s by the Ottomans enabled the expansion of the city’s limits to the north and eventually the establishment of two new Jewish neighborhoods, Neve Tzedek (founded in1887 by Aharon Chelouche), and Neve Shalom (founded in 1890).¹

      These two neighborhoods were built on limited-size lands, and small houses were constructed attached to one another and equipped with enclosed yards surrounded with stone fences. The style of the buildings in these...

    • Chapter 13 The Transformation of Tel Aviv into a Commercial City
      (pp. 129-150)

      In the first year of its foundation, 1909, the population of Ahuzat-Bayit reached 550 and occupied 65 houses. In 1910, when the name Tel Aviv was adopted, another Jewish company, Nahalt Benyamin, purchased the land northeast of the Herzliya Hebrew High School, and 40 more families settled there. Two years later the two neighborhoods were merged, a first step toward greater expansion in the future as more lands were purchased in the region. Just before the outbreak of World War I, Tel Aviv’s population grew to over 2,000, and the number of houses exceeded 150. During the war the expansion...

    • Chapter 14 Bezalel and Tel Aviv
      (pp. 151-164)

      The impact of the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem, which was already visible in the architectural design during the time of Ahuzat-Bayit, increased in 1922 after a major exhibition of Bezalel’s founder Boris Schatz at the Herzliya Hebrew High School in Tel Aviv. In the opening of the exhibition, the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, praised Bezalel for its contribution to the “Hebraic art,” not only in the field of fine art but also in functional design and craft.¹ Schatz expressed his disappointment that Bezalel thus far had received art commissions to decorate synagogues from the United States,...

    • Chapter 15 The Search for Local Original Style
      (pp. 165-178)

      The intensive attempt to constitute a local original style represents a symptomatic pattern in the development of Israeli art since the early days of Zionism. Bezalel artists borrowed local oriental motifs, revived ancient Hebraic symbols, and then synthesized them with traditional academic style or Art Nouveau. The artists of Tel Aviv also included local qualities in their paintings or sculptures, but, in contrast to Bezalel’s artists and Tel Aviv’s architects, they were already applying a modern formal approach by the 1920s. The modern artists of Tel Aviv rejected any association with past traditions, following the Zionist ideology of creating a...

    • Chapter 16 Eclectic Architecture
      (pp. 179-196)

      The application of a local unique architectural style was only one segment in the rainbow of styles that Tel Aviv architects used. The experience of eclecticism is typical to all Jewish cultural and artistic activities in Palestine during the 1920s. Eclecticism is characterized by the absence of a unified leading style as a result of the great variety of inspirational sources surfacing in a given time and location. Among Tel Aviv architects, eclecticism operated at different levels: the application of many styles of designs by different architects, the utilization of different styles by the same architect, and, in the more...

    • Chapter 17 Patronage, Public Involvement and the Media
      (pp. 197-202)

      The architecture of Tel Aviv in the 1920s was generated by private enterprise and not by a settlement company or public entity. The patrons of the architects were wealthy individuals who initiated building projects such as villas, hotels, commercial centers, and apartment buildings for rental properties. Therefore, the architectural styles of the 1920s in Tel Aviv somehow reflected the taste of these patrons.

      The British administration was not involved in the building industry in Tel Aviv, as Tel Aviv was granted a status of municipality from 1921, and the city supervised and inspected all building activities. Architectural supervision was already...

    • Chapter 18 Laborers’ Organizations and the Beginning of Housing for the Workers
      (pp. 203-206)

      The intense building in Tel Aviv in the 1920s was initiated by private enterprise, but gradually construction workers started to organize and became a significant political force. The growth of the Jewish workforce was a result of the advocacy forAvoda Ivrit(Hebrew labor) by the Zionist Organization. This concept originated from the eighteenth-century Haskala (education or enlightenment) movement for the purpose of transforming traditional Jewish occupations into manufacturing and agriculture that would enable Jews to better integrate into their gentile society. The Zionist movement adjusted the idea of physical work, which evolved into “nation building.”¹ It eventually increased the...

    • Chapter 19 Levy and the Tel Aviv Experience
      (pp. 207-232)

      Alexander Levy arrived in Palestine in 1920, the same year that he publishedBuilding and Housing in New Palestine. Levy came to Tel Aviv together with Nadja Strasser (1871–1955), a writer who concentrated on socialism and feminism in the Jewish context. They met each other in Berlin after Strasser studied at Vienna University.¹

      Upon arrival in Tel Aviv Levy founded the building company Kedem (Orient) based on the same idea as the Association of the Builders of the Land of Israel in Berlin. Levy converted the Bella Vista Hotel in Jaffa into the company’s headquarters, including a department for...

  6. Part 4: Conclusion

    • Chapter 20 Conclusion
      (pp. 235-244)

      While Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism in the modern era, did not recommend specific solutions for architecture and town planning, he certainly emphasized the implementation of an advanced or modern approach in regard to the future settlement of Palestine by Jewish immigrants. Herzl discussed in his writings several topics, such as the improvement of living conditions, elements from the concept of the garden city, and special accommodations for the working class, which all reflect noteworthy themes of early modern architecture and town planning.

      The Zionist movement promoted the concept of modernity as a primary motif in the transition of...

  7. Appendix I: Ernst Herrmann’s Survey of Building in Palestine
    (pp. 257-264)
  8. Appendix 2: Maps of Palestine, Jaffa, and Tel Aviv
    (pp. 265-274)