2020-03-01 Frame

(singke) #1
to new buildings and even towers
around Tel Aviv.
Standing out in this
landscape of commodification
is the White City Center (WCC),
which opened in September 2019
after four years of renovation. It
is situated in the Liebling Haus,
a 1936 structure designed by Dov
Karmi, one of Israel’s founding
fathers of architecture. Here,
architects Dan Hasson and
Yonathan Cohen took a radical
approach: rather than doing a
‘fine’ restoration, they opted for a
‘rough’ one. Working closely with
the Bauhaus’s own preservation
architect, Winfried Brenne, and
the municipality of Tel Aviv as the
client, they produced a project of
perpetual cultural and structural
negotiation. Transforming a
residential building into a public
institute, the design had to carve
the building from within. While
every floor was initially identical,
a blueprint of stacked apartments
with a circular design around the
core, it now had to accommodate
various functions: a café on the
ground floor, galleries for tempo-
rary and permanent exhibitions,
and a laboratory for preservation.
For this reason, every level is now
completely different, creating a
spatial gradation from the ground
up – the first being the most open,
to the top, which was remodelled
to the exact layout of its original.
This methodology led to new
vistas that span former partitions
and new relationships between
spaces. In this surgical process,
the ‘scars’ of demolition remain
as they were, exposing all the
original materials and leaving
them as traces of the renovation:
cast-concrete skeleton, solid
concrete blocks and sand-lime
bricks. Nothing was added,
only removed: the hard-wood
floor and ceramic tiles that were
layered with time were peeled to
reveal the original terrazzo. Every

In the wake of Bauhaus’s centenary, Gili Merin reflects on how the style has

shaped a city.

Gili Merin is an architect and
photographer based in London
and Tel Aviv. She teaches at the
Royal College of Art and the
Architectural Association in
London, where she is also a
PhD candidate.

Like many cities, Tel Aviv is
captive to its historical legacy. In
2003, UNESCO declared a part
of the inner city, the White City,
as a Unique World Heritage Site
of the Modern Movement for
its unparalleled concentration
of International Style buildings.
Curved balconies, raised pilotis
and a lack of ornament character-
ized this construction style, which
was very much style-less. Func-
tionalist and optimistic, it brought
to the Mediterranean a dose of
European idealism. Imported to
Palestine by immigrants who fled
Nazi Germany in 1933 (many of
them from the Bauhaus school
in Dessau, which closed that
year), the so-called White City
was built, literally, with means
salvaged from Germany: not
currency, but actual construc-
tion materials such as tiles and
brick, transported to Palestine as
part of a vast property exchange
Today, Tel Aviv’s mono-
chrome Bauhaus buildings have
become a coveted luxury: with
their spacious interiors, shaded
balconies and clean aesthetics,
a capitalist interest is invested in
these seemingly modest houses,
not to mention the aura cast by
UNESCO’s declaration and the
worldwide affection towards
refurbished ‘oldies’ as opposed
to shiny ‘newbies’. Preservation
laws dictate that the exterior
must remain true to its austere
sculptural form. But on the inside,
one can run free with high-end
finishes – from wooden floors to
polychrome ceramics, bespoke
appliances and designer chande-
liers. There’s no way to fight it: it
was the free market that saved the
legacy of the International Style
from demolition. Unfortunately,
it is also putting this modernist
legacy at risk. Bauhaus is becom-
ing a style. Its elements are now
ornaments, applied haphazardly





window and door, made from
cheap pine wood, was removed,
cleaned, polished and returned to
its frame. Walls were sanded and
corrected with mineral pigments
made from natural materials,
as opposed to contemporary
oil-based products. Systems could
not be placed within ceilings,
so electricity was installed
below, in special fixtures, and
air-conditioning units replaced
former heaters that were located
in alcoves within the walls.
‘Preservation is like
religion,’ says Hasson. ‘And once
someone decides on a singular
narrative, everything that fits this
story becomes sacred.’ In that
respect, every original pipe, tile
and faucet was to be treated as a
treasure, regardless of its value
or quality. But what is original?
‘How far back do we preserve?’
questions Hasson. ‘There were
wonderful glass bricks from the
1980s in the staircase and we left
them in because they are equally
a part of this place as the 1930s
German components.’ Luckily,
there’s some irony in this project:
a building within a building
that succeeds in questioning
the political weight of such a
cross-cultural enterprise. ‘Above
all, we want this place to generate
a debate about design,’ Sharon
Golan, programme director of
the WCC, tells me. It worked:
what and how we preserve is not
only questioned, but its results
expose its inner contradiction
and complexity by proposing a
simple radicality: preservation
through demolition. In a way, it
is no longer, as Rem Koolhaas
once said, that ‘preservation
is overtaking us’. Instead, it is
liberating us.•

10 Reporting From

Free download pdf