the flattening effect

Tel Aviv is preserved as the White City, a city of modern cubes. In its bid for world heritage status, the authors describe the city as a result of the intersection of modern planning and architecture. Certainly a simplification, the description actually goes too far in combining its planning and architecture. Actually, as it has been argued since, the architecture came from a modernist school of thought that supported open, fluid space in which were placed building objects, while the planning was based on early twentieth century garden city concepts, which by 1927, when the plan was adopted, were no longer avant garde.

Basically, Geddes made a denser plan with smaller lots than was in vogue. He also based the major roads in his plan on the existing roads, and then organized the infill. Functional zoning unconsidered, he was planning a garden suburb whose only real zoning category was residential, with some space for residentially based commerce.

Within a restrictive plan and lot division, architects may have envisioned a sea of white cubes. Or, they simply built out their buildings to the maximum size after the setback regulations that governed all sides of each plot.

Source: Tel Aviv City Archive

What it produced was a new kind of street in Palestine, one that held a depth of open space on either side. According to Nicky Davidov, the simplicity of the building design drew emphasis away from each building, allowing the street edge to function as a whole, while still creating a somewhat fluid space through the presence of the gaps in each lot. The buildings acted as volumes that filled out the street space.

Since then, the building volume has flattened into a continuous edge along the street. Growing vegetation obfuscates the side and back lots, and in some cases the front facades as well.  New additions to the sides of buildings in commercial areas fill in the side lot gaps at the ground level, creating a continuous edge along commercial streets. Balconies have been filled in with plastic shades, disconnecting the inhabitants from the street, and further flattening the facades.

But it is not only additions and alterations that have affected the streetscape. The buildings themselves were primed to support that shift. The buildings, though described as white cubes, were built with emphasis placed on the front façade, both in geometry and surface treatment. So as the side lots began to fill, the already secondary building faces disappeared altogether.


modern facades

I have been in Tel Aviv now for a few weeks, soaking in the city, digging through archives and snooping around buildings in various neighborhoods. I have many thanks to offer…once again I have experienced wonderful generosity from many people here and around Israel/Palestine.

Sahar, Danna, Opher, Liya  & Mikael,  Yael, Yahel & family, Itai & Adi, Rachel, Nicky, Neta….

Today I had an illuminating conversation with Mr. Nissim Davidov, who is a fountain of knowledge on the planning and architecture of Tel Aviv. After our talk he graciously offered to walk with me through the city, discussing the stories behind the buildings, gardens and squares as we passed them.

Tel Aviv’s modern architecture, the ‘bauhaus’ collection, has far less to do with the modernist principles that began the movement than it does with the sleek appearance of the façade. This façade, not produced by an ‘honest expression of the interior’ instead creates a homogenous backdrop for the now lively city.

In most (perhaps all) buildings, various additions and alterations have crept in. Most common are balcony enclosures, which were first done with plastic shutters and now upgraded to glass. At the street, restaurants creep out and borrow space from the ample sidewalks. And without human intervention, the heavily salted air from the Mediterranean works hard to break the stucco and concrete surfaces.

In Zina Square on Dizengoff Street, at the center of planned Tel Aviv, the façade’s importance (or building’s lack) reaches a high point. Here, one of the seminal Tel Aviv buildings was bulldozed for remodeling…while the façade remained standing.

And the gulf between façade and building is growing. Notice the project (one of a few I’ve seen) under construction in south Tel Aviv.

But this isn’t the city’s only face…there are many incredible things happening here. More to come…

ankara’s adjustments: mixing construction systems

Ankara’s new city of 1928 had to be planned around its existing settlement, located at the top of a hill in the middle of a valley surrounded by mountains. Much of the old city sat inside the walls of an even older fort.

The basic concept of the Ankara plan was to create a new boulevard that started at the edge of this old city and ran south, to a new administrative center in the plain.

The new center brought new ideas, new methods of construction, new ways of living. Concrete frame systems, now ubiquitous, established a modern means of construction and a new, bigger scale of building.

Despite these efforts in recreating the urban landscape of Ankara by isolating the old, the original arrangements of Ankara have crept out into the plains, albeit in small, but critical ways.

Inside the fort wall, buildings remain the same, and renovations are only historic. Outside, as the hill slopes down, the old and the new begin to mix. This photo is taken near the edge of Ulus, the old district, where a pedestrian market opens into the ring road around the core city.

But the edge can also be extreme. Here, along Ataturk Bulvari, the main axis of Ankara, pre-1940s building is decisively cut by a large boulevard and an open park that follow the southwest edge of the hill and buffer it from the main railway.

The old houses were built of wood…their basic structure was a stone foundation, with wood frame sections above, cantilevered slightly at each increasing level. The walls were filled with brick. On top of this, a beam or truss system, depending on the span, supported a ceramic tile roof.

In new concrete areas, buildings were designed with flat roofs. However, because of rain and snow, many of these roofs were replaced with traditional roofs, which leaked less. Now, the traditional roofs are integrated into the construction process from the start.