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Between Internationality and Locality, Between New and Old


(Levi Strauss, The City and Collective Artifacts, Paris, 1950, p. @@).

Adoption of the International Style in Israel was part of a worldwide phenomenon. It was a "non-particular style" which represented no specific nationality or place. Despite the attempt to avoid "self expression", the International Style acquired a unique character in each country where it was absorbed. Unique manifestation was, of course, inevitable, for each country has a social structure and culture of its own: In each country the local "interpretation" was generated according to its unique economic, political, and geographic conditions. However, the geographic conditions, landscape and climate vary not only between countries, but also within them. Even in tiny Israel there are differences between International Style buildings in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, stemming from their different identities: Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains vs. Tel Aviv, the town in the sands (thus the buildings in Jerusalem and Haifa were designed with reference to the mountainous landscape); Jerusalem the Holy City vs. the secular Tel Aviv; in Jerusalem history is imprinted in stone, whereas Tel Aviv is a young city. Furthermore, most International Style buildings in Jerusalem are coated with stone, alluding to the local building tradition and in keeping with the municipal law. They appear heavier and rooted in the ground… In Tel Aviv, on the other hand, the buildings 'float' on pilotis and the plaster is peeling off. Tel Aviv architecture has a short but fascinating history, which in the course of time was the source of many of its troubles. The major ethos by which the city developed was modernity, and modernism relies on lack of nostalgia. It has been more than half a century since the absorption of the International Style in Israel, half a century during which styles and beliefs have changed, as well as inhabitants' "unique ways of life". These cultural processes and changes left their imprint on cities in Israel and elsewhere, and are manifest in the buildings themselves. During those years Tel Aviv grew into a bustling metropolis, its buildings grew taller and their style changed in congruence with the winds of change in art and architecture which kept blowing from the West.

In its "white city" period Tel Aviv exhibited some moments of beauty, not one of grandeur and magnificence but rather the beauty of simplicity, of brightness and austerity. During the years that have passed the city changed, drawing away from its image as a "white city" of a uniform skyline.

The buildings were neglected, have aged, and their beauty vanished behind the plastic shutters of the closed balconies. The same white buildings were transformed to meet present needs. However, if the needs and lifestyles have changed, why preserve the buildings of the past? Why not destroy these buildings and instead construct buildings which meet necessities of the present time?