"White City" Saved!(?)


A recently preserved building on Tel Aviv's Ben Yehuda Street.

The city of Tel Aviv finally has a historic building preservation plan! After almost 20 years of planning, negotiations, arguments, you name it, national planning authorities gave the plan the official stamp of approval last week. The plan extends to some 1,000 apartment buildings in central Tel Aviv (an area recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site), and creates a legal and economic framework for their renovation and preservation.

Tel Aviv, known in Israel as "The White City," and with some of the most expensive real estate in the Middle East, is home to thousands of buildings built in a style which combines elements of the International/Bauhaus style with traditional Mediterranean elements. Apartments built in this style are valued not just for their aesthetic value and functional layout, but also for their sophisticated climatic elements. With design elements such as generous verandas, cross breezes, solar shades, flat roofs and greenery on all sides, these buildings use much less energy and are more comfortable in the hot summer than most of what is being built today. Most of these buildings were built in the 1930's, when a wave of immigrants, mainly from Germany, arrived in the city. Unlike in most European cities, however, property owners in Tel Aviv are not required to maintain their buildings, and many of them have sunk into decay over the years as a result.

Nothing is simple in Israel, and the preservation of Tel Aviv's architectural heritage is no exception. Implementation will have to wait for now (the mastermind of the plan was fired by the current mayor), some property owners are threatening to sue and the city's preservation department may not be ready to handle the scale of the project. However, by shifting the market's emphasis to refurbishing existing buildings (something which is already happening all around the city) instead of throwing up new ones, building preservation will save untold amounts of materials and energy and restore the pleasant Mediterranean vibe to the White City.

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