The Influence of Bauhaus on Architecture in Early Palestine and Israel (NY) TIMES) By ELIZABETH ZACH DESSAU, GERMANY 03/16/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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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
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
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
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
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