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The Influence of Bauhaus on Architecture in Early Palestine and Israel (NY) TIMES) By ELIZABETH ZACH DESSAU, GERMANY 03/16/12)Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/16/arts/16iht-rartbauhaus16.html?sq=Israel&st=cse&scp=2&pagewanted=print NEW YORK TIMES NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
DESSAU, GERMANY — When he arrived in Palestine in 1920, the architect Richard Kauffmann must have wondered whether he had really reached the “Promised Land,” the hoped-for haven for Jewish exiles fleeing Europe’s ghettos and pogroms.

Upon arrival from Germany, he encountered swamps, desert, and the constant threat of malaria and yellow fever. Worse, the makeshift housing, mostly within abandoned barns, was, he reflected in an article in 1973 in the German-Jewish newspaper Jüdische Rundschau, “almost a textbook example of bad planning.” Wind blew dung-heap odors through the dining halls and living quarters of the newly arrived immigrants, most of whom were idealistic and well- educated, unused to such conditions.

“Throughout all of Palestine we have a very constant and cool westerly wind,” Mr. Kauffmann is quoted as saying in the newspaper. “What this means for settlement planning is that they have to be set up perpendicular to the direction of the wind and laid out so that the wind blows odors and insects away from the areas inhabited by humans.”

It was a fortunate time for Mr. Kauffmann, whose training had included an emphasis on city and landscape design. A year earlier, the British mandate had commissioned the Scottish town planner Sir Patrick Geddes to design the city of Jerusalem and, later, Tel Aviv. Architects and planners were needed. Mr. Kauffmann, along with other young architects and designers, would eventually spearhead and champion an archipelago of collective farms and settlements, or kibbutzim, in essence laying the groundwork for the nascent state of Israel.

His story, and that of six other prominent designers and architects, is the focus of an exhibition at the Bauhaus Museum in Dessau, Germany, running through May 28. “Kibbutz and Bauhaus: Pioneers of the Collective, ” which includes photographs, blueprints and furniture compositions, marks 100 years of the movement to establish kibbutzim in Israel.

Werner Möller, who co-curated the Dessau show, said that while he was familiar with the Bauhaus history in Germany, he was less familiar with the Israeli Bauhaus movement. “It was like jumping into cold water with the kibbutz aspect,” he said, adding that the Israeli and German curators who worked together to prepare the exhibition “complemented each other’s work and understanding.”

The Dessau exhibition draws parallels between the architects and designers who taught at the Bauhaus design school — notably Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Hannes Meyer — and their Jewish protégés who filtered in and out of the institute in the early 1930s en route to Palestine.

Mr. Gropius and his collaborators had charted unknown design territory since the founding of the Bauhaus school in 1919 with their radical “form follows function” philosophy and avant-garde emphasis on harmony between design and nature. But it was not to last: The National Socialists condemned the Bauhaus, declaring it an abomination of German tradition and, under pressure from the regime, the founders closed the school in 1933 after 14 years of operation in Weimar, then Dessau and finally Berlin. Most of the designers emigrated to the United States, taking the school’s ideals with them.

Shortly before, Mr. Kauffmann and his collaborators, aware of rising discrimination across Europe, had similarly taken the experimental Bauhaus spirit into Palestine, where the barren landscape proved fertile ground for applying modern design principles. There they created functional yet livable communities for the increasing number of European Jewish exiles from Europe, inspired by Bauhaus aesthetics in planning and architecture.

A map of Europe at the exhibition illustrates the circuitous routes each architect followed to reach Palestine, and their brushes with — and enthusiasm for — Bauhaus along the way. Some were already living in Palestine before deciding to study in Dessau, while others trained there before emigrating.

The exhibition’s star is the architect Arieh Sharon. Born in Poland in 1900, he studied architecture in the Czech city of Brno and by the time he was 20 had taken up residence in Palestine. Like Mr. Kauffmann, his initial impressions of the territory led him to puzzle over how best to build housing that would conform to the desert terrain.

In 1926, during a visit to Germany, he happened upon a magazine article about the Bauhaus. He booked a ticket to Dessau on a whim, arriving just as the school neared completion. He met Mr. Gropius, applied to the school and was accepted, entering the school’s first famous six-month “preliminary course,” which fused instruction in painting and in graphic, interior and industrial design.

By then, Mr. Sharon’s interest had shifted to landscape architecture, and he participated in Bauhaus courses examining the best uses of natural light. It was an artistic concept he would apply to his designs in Palestine when he returned there in 1931. His building facades are understated and whitewashed, with an emphasis on harmony between function and design. The Bauhaus philosophy of simplicity also imbues his kibbutz constructions. Because, at the time, there was a shortage of concrete and iron, he chose local and abundant materials, like sand and limestone — laying the cornerstones for Tel Aviv’s iconic White City, today the world’s largest collection of Bauhaus buildings and a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site.

In 1948, Mr. Sharon was appointed head of Israel’s first national urban planning office, and in 1962, he was awarded the Israeli Prize for Architecture.

Not all of the featured architects and designers studied in Dessau — Mr. Sharon, Shmuel Mestechkin and Munio Weinraub did, while Mr. Kauffmann, Samuel Bickels, Shlomo Oren-Weinberg and Malka Haas learned their trades elsewhere — but the exhibition points out that Bauhaus design principles nevertheless left an imprint on their work.

Mr. Kauffmann, for instance, had trained and worked in Frankfurt, Essen and Oslo before reaching Palestine, where he designed the settlements at Tel Yosef, Ein Harod and Nahalal. Mr. Oren-Weinberg immigrated from Romania to Turkey in 1895 with his family before going to Germany in 1905 to study horticulture. In 1925, he immigrated to Palestine, where he met Mr. Kauffmann.

Munio Weinraub made his way to the Bauhaus school in 1930 from Poland. He had studied drafting and, in Dessau, secured a coveted slot under Mr. Mies’s tutelage. But his studies were cut short after he was unable to pay the school’s tuition. He drifted to Frankfurt, where he later was arrested for distributing Communist pamphlets. After his release from jail, he migrated to Palestine in 1934, where he established an architecture firm, despite never having completed his formal studies. The Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem and Haifa’s main synagogue would be among the 8,000 structures across Palestine based on his designs.

Alongside photos of these buildings are images of isolated, barrack- type enclaves that, at first glance, bear no Bauhaus aesthetic. Designed by Mr. Mestechkin, these so-called “tower-and-stockade” settlements were quickly built on seized Arab territory, the exhibition states. The curators note that while the buildings may not be typical Bauhaus, the social and intellectual ideas of kibbutzim mirror the aesthetic vision and were an important step in the founding history of the settlements. Among the photos is one of Ein Gev, a kibbutz established in 1937 in the midst of an Arab revolt. Mr. Mestechkin’s career would span 40 years, his influence seen in more than 60 kibbutzim.

Letters on display demonstrate that by the time Mr. Sharon reached Dessau, he had already designed Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, east of Hadera. This clearly impressed the Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer: In one of the letters commenting on Mr. Sharon’s achievements, Mr. Meyer noted his student’s “keen interest in the sociological problem of building.” The kibbutz, in short, seemed to buttress Mr. Meyer’s Bauhaus mantra, that architecture should answer “the needs of the people, not the needs of luxury.” (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 03/16/12)


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