Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Tiong Bahru - Singapore's Modernist Social Housing Estate

Singapore is known for its ultra-modern architecture, beautiful shop-houses and a serious approach to shopping. However, the island also has a significant number of surviving modernist and art deco buildings and I was able to see several of them when I recently spent a few days there en route to Australia.


The greatest concentration of deco style buildings in Singapore can be found in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood where in the 1930's, about 50 blocks of  low-rise flats and shop-houses were constructed initially to accommodate residents from overcrowded parts of Chinatown. The public housing project began in 1927 when the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) was granted the sum of $260,000 to acquire 70 acres of land in Tiong Bahru for shop house lots on what had been semi-rural land and burial ground. This was no small task, involving a huge marshland reclamation project with some places being up to 2 metres below sea level. By 1931 roads and drains were in place together with plans for building 900 houses to accommodate 13,500 people in total - 15 in each house. It's worth pausing to consider that figure against the purpose of the project - reducing overcrowding elsewhere!

Architect Alfred G. Church was commissioned to design the flats between 1936 and 1941. Church favored the streamline moderne style, abandoning some of the more ostentatious elements of art deco, preferring simple, functional lines reflecting the connections between architecture, the machine age and modernity. The Tiong Bahru buildings from Church's period display many of the classic features of streamline moderne including rounded corners, long horizontal and vertical lines, potholes, bands of windows and flat roofs. The original windows and door frames for the dwellings were imported from England - from the famous Crittal Manufacturing Company that still exists today. Blocks 81 and 82 on Tiong Poh Road particularly reflect the links to the machine age and became known as the aeroplane flats due to their resembling the wings of an airplane.



Although Church was influenced by western architectural preferences, he included a number of elements designed to cope with tropical conditions. These included sheltered walk-ways running the length of buildings, protecting residents from extreme sunshine and from rain, spiral staircases at the rear of the flats, adapted from shophouse designs and acting as a fire escape and locating the kitchen in a protruding section of the apartment, allowing cooking fumes to escape via an air well. This latter feature meant that people could see into each other's kitchens and even speak to each other whilst cooking. Resident Tan Peng Ann told the Oral History Centre of the National Archives of Singapore that "The kitchens were such that you can actually speak to your neighbor. There's an air well and you can talk to your neighbor across it and then with a little bamboo pole you can pass goodies across". This adapting of the style moderne approach to include local elements allowed both for more comfortable living and for a feeling of familiarity for the former Chinatown dwellers.

Perhaps the most distinctive part of the estate is Block 78 where Moh Guan Terrace and Guan Chuan Street meet. Known as the "Horse-shoe block" due to its shape, it was built between 1939 and 1940 and is the largest of the blocks. The ground floor is a mix of residential and shop units, including Hua Bee, one of the oldest coffee shops in the neighborhood. Founded in the 1940's it sold only drinks, bread, eggs and fishball noodles. It was also one of a very small number of coffee shops in Singapore that served coffee with a slice of butter in the cup to enrich the taste - something I have yet to try. The shop was used as a set for Eric Khoo's 1995 film Mee Pok Man. There is a car park at the rear of the block, accessed by passing underneath the flats and a recessed central "elephant's trunk" - a horizontal architectural feature complying with the art deco "rule of three". This together with the deliciously curved corners of the blocks linked by this feature is the star attraction of the estate for me. We will return to Block 78 in due course.



Back to the story. The first units were ready in December 1936 and 11 families moved in to what is today Block 55 at the junction of Tiong Bahru and Tiong Poh roads. It included 28 apartments and four shop units. However the original purpose of the developments seems to have been quickly lost due to the high rental of $25 per month - way beyond the means of poorer Chinese families and so that flats were mainly occupied by members of the "clerical class" and soon after by European families, several of whom were living there by August 1939. This drew the criticism of the Singapore Ratepayers Association, led by one Tay Lian Teck.

1941 there were 784 flats, 54 tenements, 33 shops and over 6,000 residents. Building ceased during the remainder of the Second World War and did not resume until the 1950's. Block 78 had been designed with a huge basement that included a 1500 square metre bomb shelter capable of holding 1600 people. Tiong Bahru was not targeted during Japanese bomb raids and according to former residents the shelter was rarely used. However the estate was targeted for screening out of anti-Japanese elements once the occupation began. Artist and former resident Huang Po-Fang recounted how residents were questioned in a requisitioned coffee shop. Those who did not pass the screening were executed by firing squad but it is said that the investigation officer at Tiong Bahru was more compassionate than those in other parts of Singapore.

During the 1950's a further 1,258 flats were added. These were designed to be surrounded by open space, with grass plots, playgrounds  and other facilities. This approach provide extremely popular and by the late 1950's there were a further 17,000 residents. Linda Koh moved into Moh Guan Terrace in 1942 and is recorded in the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail publication as saying that during the 1950's several wealthy businessmen kept mistresses on the estate, causing locals to refer to Tiong Bahru as Mei wen ro or den of beauties. The presence of pipa girls in some of the flats added to the somewhat daring atmosphere during the 1950's. The term pipa was a genteel term for a prostitute. The Tiong Bahru pipa girls lived there with their minders. Most had been sold into prostitution at a young age and had been taught to sing, play musical instruments, recite poetry and hold intelligent conversations before branching out into less cultural activities as they grew into maturity.


Although the development commenced as a social housing project, Tiong Bahru is now an extremely sort after residential area. There is recognition of the importance of its built heritage evidenced by commemorative plaques, publications and heritage walks. In 2003 Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority gazetted 20 blocks of the pre-war flats for conservation so that the unique architecture can be preserved. 

Tiong Bahru still has a  residential, neighborhood feel to it and has some good local shops. If visiting, the Forty Hands coffee shop at 78 Yong Siak Street is a good place to stop for a rest or if something more substantial is required, there are many stalls in the Tiong Bahru Market and Hawker Centre. Another little gem is Books Actually, a great little book shop just across the road from Forty Hands. Piled high with contemporary fiction,  classics and non-fiction, the stock includes many titles by Singaporean writers. The shop's website is very good and has reviews of new items and the staff are very friendly and able to give advice. I picked up My Mother-in-Law's Son by Josephine Chia which is proving a great read. Tiong Bahru might just be Singapore's best kept secret!





More pictures of Singapore here.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Picture Post 53 - Singapore's Art Deco Gem - The Cathay Cinema


The Cathay Centre in Singapore's Handy Road is a magnet for young people with its shops, cafes and multiplex cinema. It has the Singapore School of the Arts as its neighbour which no doubt supplies many of its younger customers. However, the original Cathay Cinema building was attracting visitors long before its nearest neighbors came along. Designed by British architect Frank W. Brewer, it was completed in 1939 and at 16 storeys and 83.5 metres tall, it was Asia's first skyscraper. 

Brewer was based in Singapore and designed several other buildings there. His Cathay complex included a 1,300 seat cinema, an hotel and the headquarters of the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation. The epitome of modernity, the cinema was the first air conditioned public building in Singapore and offered arm chairs to its patrons, something out of the ordinary for 1939. The original interior included black marble pillars, green tiled floors and a gold ceiling - sadly all lost now. The Cathay was declared open by Loke Wan Tho, founder of the Cathay organization and a major mover and shaker in the film industry and the first screening was The Four Feathers starring Ralph Richardson and C. Audrey Smith. 



The Second World War reached Singapore in 1942 and the Cathay was used as a Red Cross casualty station. In February of that year, 14 shells struck the cinema, killing a number of Australians who had been in the hall. When Singapore fell to the Japanese, the occupying forces used it as a broadcasting centre from which to disseminate propaganda and directives to the local populace, including occasionally displaying the severed heads of executed locals.

The Cathay also served as home to the Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu for the last year of the war. Ozu was to go on to direct the classic Tokyo Story in 1953. During his time in Singapore he is said to have done little work and spent most of his time entertaining guests, drawing and collecting carpets. This must have been disappointing for his superiors who had sent him there to make a propaganda film with the Indian director, Chandra Bose. The building was to have another famous resident from 1945 to 1946 when Lord Louis Mountbatten stayed there in his role as Commander of the Allied Forces in the Far East. The cinema eventually re-opened in 1948 with Tunisian Victory as its first post-war screening, an allied propaganda film. You can see it in its entirety here on youtube if you really want to!


Since then the building has been through many changes. The hotel was converted into flats, an unsympathetic makeover took place in 1978 and in 1990 the Cathay organization announced plans to revamp the entire complex, including demolition of the original cinema. Thankfully the facade was listed as National Monument in 2003 and so this alone survives from the original building. Its striking curves and waves, its geometric centre piece and highly stylized lettering bearing the Cathay name now compete with much taller buildings to the side and the rear and interesting as those newcomers are, the Cathay facade is still the main attraction.


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More pictures from Singapore here.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Tel Aviv - Ten More

The seafront, Tel-Aviv
Almost two years ago, I wrote here about my favourite places in my favourite city. Two years is a long time in Tel-Aviv and some of the places I listed back then have disappeared whilst many new ones have appeared. Having just returned from a month in Tel-Aviv, it is timely to update my choices and to list ten more.

Starting with food (of course), Cafe Idelson at 117 Dizengoff and the vegetarian Mezze restaurant on Ahad Ha'am are sadly no more, but I have some new favourites that more than make up for this. My first choice is Delicatessen at 79/81 Yehuda HaLevi which combines a successful restaurant/ cafe with a stunning food emporium offering high quality cheeses, breads, vegetables and other deli fare. You can choose to eat upstairs inside, or on the pavement cafe (my preference). There are some excellent salads and lunchtime offers as well as some extremely tempting patisserie cunningly displayed in the window behind the cafe tables. I ate there three times during my recent stay, returning for the great food and the friendly and helpful service. A bonus is that Delicatessen is located in a restored Bauhaus building dating from 1938 and designed by Yitzhak Rapaport who also designed the French Ambassadors house in Jaffa.

Delicatessen, Yehuda HaLevi Street
Still with food, I have two new cafe favourites. Nachat sits right on the corner of Kikar Dizengoff and Raynes street (the address is Raynes 1). It is small but cosy with a few indoor tables, a work bench for those who can't be parted from their laptop and several outdoor seats. The coffee is taken very seriously with information about the different beans on display. Good sandwiches (I like the tomato, mozzarella and pesto) are available but for me the star of the show is the cheesecake which was both delicious and light - every time I had it! 

Da Da and Da on the ground floor of the Institut Francais at Rothschild 7 is another new favourite and my third choice in my new top ten. I visited this place several times each week on my recent trip as it was my coffee stop during the break from my Hebrew classes at the nearby Ulpan Neveh-Tzedek. The coffee is great and there is a good range of pastries to help you keep your strength up! My favourite was the apple pastry the sweetness of which complements the strength of my taste in coffee. The staff here are superb. After my first few visits I no longer needed to give them my name or tell them how I liked my coffee. That's what I call service. I also ate lunch here twice and enjoyed some very tasty salads. A real find.

Milk Bakery, Beit Eshel Street
I am going to indulge myself (which I did throughout my trip) by including a another cafe/ bakery. The Milk Bakery at 5 Beit Eshel Street in Jaffa's flea market was another place where I spent a lot of time during my trip. The bakery is a tiny walk-in space tucked neatly into the corner of the Market House Hotel. There are a couple of tables inside and some pavement seating as well as a takeaway service. The coffee is good, but the various pastries and patisseries are what kept me returning. The owner trained in patisserie in Paris and it shows. This is another place for great cheesecake but my favourite was the cassata which included sponge, ricotta, orange rind and other goodies encased in green marzipan. Reader, I ate the lot. It's a great place for a coffee and cake stop if you are visiting the market as well as somewhere to stock up on treats to take home. They make good bread too!

Four choices already made and I'm still on food. My fifth choice, still in that category is  Shuk Lewinsky, a market in Lewinsky Street in south Tel-Aviv. This is the place to come for spices and other culinary treats. A stroll through the shuk will stimulate your sense of taste and smell as well as being a delight for the eyes with the colourful mounds of herbs, spices, nuts, teas and coffees.

The shuk was established in the 1930's, primarily by a group of Greek Jews from Salonika. It expanded following independence in 1948 with Turkish, Iranian and Bulgarian Jews also establishing stalls here. Many of the shops are long established and have loyal customers, whilst the shuk has also become part of the itinerary of more informed tourists. The Yom Tov delicatessen was founded by the family of the same name in 1967 when they arrived in Israel from Istanbul. The shop is famous for its halva but people also come for the jams, speciality cheeses and spiced salads. Holocaust survivor Chaim Raphael came to Israel from Salonika in 1958 and founded the shop that still bears his name today. Here you can find great olives, cheeses and meats and there are special weekend treats including stuffed vegetables and leek patties.

Cafe Atlas, Shuk Lewinsky
Regular readers know I have a passion for strong coffee. And cake. Look no further than Cafe Atlas, founded in 1924, again by Greek Jews from Salonika. Like most of the shops on Lewinsky, Atlas is open to the street and the aromas of strong coffee, spiced teas and other goodies float out to draw you in. You can have your coffee beans ground here and Atlas is famous for its Golda Coffee - a very strong blend named after former Prime Minister Golda Meir who used to drink it at the cafe's Ramat Aviv coffee shop. I drank gallons of this stuff during my recent trip and brought 300 grams home with me to keep me going! Cafe Atlas isn't strictly speaking a cafe - they don't serve drinks here, but buy yourself some Golda, pick up some baklava from the Nazareth based Baklava Mahrum across the road, then go home and enjoy! Like all of the stores on Lewinsky, expert advice is available and a warm, friendly service is provided by Juliet and David Raphael.

The market is not without its oddities. You can find a coffee shop that serves from a window and has an outdoor seating area - in the back of a van with a couple of interesting mannequins on top. Only in Tel Aviv. Guided tours of the market including tasting tours can be arranged. You can find the details here.

Street cafe, Shuk Lewinsky
Coffee and cake is not my only passion. I also love jazz and Tel-Aviv has a thriving jazz scene that includes world class musicians and young, emerging artists with something to hear almost every night of the week. The Tel-Aviv jazz scene is my sixth choice. During my four weeks in Tel-Aviv I managed to see Omer Avital play at Zappa, Daniel Zamir  (supported by Tomer and Sam Bar no less) at Levontin 7 and a group of young musicians at Beit Ha'amudim. The latter is a relative newcomer to the scene, housed in an eclectic style building in the Nachalat Binyamin area close to Shuk HaCarmel. There are gigs almost every night and big names including Aaron Goldberg, Yuval Cohen and Gilad Abro have appeared here. As well as a busy bar, there is a kitchen serving light meals. Best Ha'amudim has a busy, friendly atmosphere and attracts a much younger audience that most jazz clubs - possibly because entry is free! The Shablul club at the port also hosts jazz concerts including leading Israeli and international artists. Sadly I just missed one of my favourites - pianist Ari Erev who launched his new album Flow there on the day I came home. Bad timing on my part.

I can't complete my list without some examples of Tel-Aviv's wonderful architecture. The city is known for its more than 4000 Bauhaus style buildings constructed in the late 1920's and throughout the 1930's, designed primarily by Jewish refugees fleeing Germany, Austria and the then Czechoslovakia. In 2003 this built heritage earned Tel-Aviv UNESCO World Heritage status. On each visit I discover examples of the style that I haven't seen before or that have been restored. I am going to be greedy and include three of them as part of my seventh choice - Bauhaus architecture. 


56 Lavandah Street
1 Montefiore Street
As well as drawing on Bauhaus influences, some of Tel-Aviv's modernist architecture displays elements of the art deco style, including nautical references with portholes and curves resembling the bow of a ship. There is even an apartment building widely known as the "Ship House". Number 56 Lavandah Street (real name Shimon Levi House), was completed in 1935, designed by Arieh Cohen. It is a long, thin building with a beautiful curved bow that gives it its nickname. The house is a little off the main tourist trail in south Tel-Aviv, close to the Central Bus Station but could be combined with a visit to the edgy Levontin district which includes Shuk Lewinsky, Levontin 7 and several small galleries and design shops.

Number one Montefiore Street is another building displaying nautical features. Built in the 1920's for the Havoinik family, the original design work was carried out by Yehuda Magidovitch who was responsible for many of the city's architectural landmarks. However,  the triangular structure you see today was constructed to the final designs of Isaac Schwartz. Originally a residential building, it now serves as the headquarters of an accountancy organisation. The upper floors are not original but were added as part of the 2011 restoration works in a style sympathetic to Schwartz's designs.This approach is sometimes taken as a means of financing the restoration necessary to preserve these buildings.

My third example of Tel-Aviv Bauhaus is number 56 Mazeh Street. This is probably my favourite building in the whole city. Completed 1934 and designed by Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin, it was originally the print works of the Ha'aretz newspaper. Today it is used as an office building and has no connection to the newspaper. It's pristine white cement cladding, beautiful balcony and glass framed stairwell ensure that this relatively small building stands out despite the much larger modern block behind it. Gorgeous.


You can find out more about Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus architecture you in the Bauhaus Center at 99 Dizengoff where there are books, postcards, posters and exhibitions that focus on this subject. The Center also offers guided tours of some of the key Bauhaus buildings.

56 Mazeh Street
Beit Bialik
Beit Bialik is my eighth choice for my new top ten. This very beautiful eclectic style building at number 22 Bialik Street was once home to the national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. Completed in 1924 and designed by architect Joseph Minor, the house is a Levantine version of the eclectic style with some art nouveau influences. The ground floor rooms are a riot of color with deep blues, reds, greens and yellows punctuated with beautiful Bezalel tiles designed by Ze'ev Raban, showing scenes from the Bible and the symbols of the Twelve tribes of Israel. During the 1920's the house became a cultural focal point for the city as well as a place where people went to get advice. Eventually there were so many visitors that Bialik had to post a notice saying "Ch. N. Bialik receives requests at his residence on Mondays and Thursdays only from 5-7 in the evening". Visits to the house are much less restricted these days and can be combined with a visit to the City Museum and to the Reuven Rubin Museum, both of which are in the same street.

Beit Bialik
Beit Bialik
Tel-Aviv has many other museums including several of international standard. My previous top ten included the still magnificent Eretz Israel Museum, whilst Beit Hatfutsot, the Diaspora Museum has seen major improvements in recent years. However, the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art is a truly world class museum with outstanding collections of Israeli and European art. These include works by Klimt, Kandinsky, Chagall, Archipenko, Bonnard and van Gogh as well as leading Israeli artists such as Reuben, Gutman, Mane-Katz, Zaritsky and Janco. There are also strong contemporary collections and excellent temporary exhibitions that include photography, drawing and sculpture as well as painting. A new wing was added to the museum a few years ago and has been used to showcase Israeli art from the pre-state years to today. The exhibition is changed from time to time but includes some wonderful items from the early years of the Bezalel school of art as well as more challenging contemporary pieces. The museum also stages concerts and lectures, has a good gift shop and a cafe for occasional coffee stops when admiring the collections. It is my ninth choice for my updated top ten.

New wing, Tel-Aviv Museum of Art
Ben-Gurion returns, Tel-Aviv beach
My tenth and final choice for my new list is my beloved promenade that runs along the sea front linking Tel-Aviv to Jaffa. The promenade is busy all day and late into the evening with people strolling, jogging, cycling, roller-skating, busking or just sitting and relaxing. I like to go there on shabbat afternoons, sometimes to walk on the shore, other times to sit and read and always to enjoy the music of a small group of older gentlemen who play the violin to entertain passers-by. I love to walk all the way to Jaffa, occasionally stopping for something to eat at Goldman's cafe and always to admire the view of Jaffa's old city perched on the hillside as the sun begins to go down in the late afternoon. Like everything else in this most exciting of cities, the promenade is always changing. At the moment there are major works being carried out to provide more shelter from the summer sun plus stepped, open air seating facing the sea. It already looks good and its going to be even better when its finished. New palm trees have been introduced planted to provide more shade and David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister appears to have returned, doing his famous headstand on the beach. I can't wait to go back, which I will. In September!

Shabbat serenade, the promenade, Tel-Aviv
Sun-down and old Jaffa

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Picture post 52 - Modernism on Massada Street

Haifa is Israel's third largest city (after Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv) and is the main centre in the north of the country. Like Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, Haifa has many modernist buildings spread throughout the city. I have written previously those in the heart of the Hadar district where there are many examples of this style, including residential and commercial premises and at least one former cinema.

37 Massada Street
37 Massada Street
A little further up Mount Carmel, Massada Street is well known for its cafes, bars and vintage shops that have sprung up over the last decade. It is also home to a collection of extremely attractive modernist buildings completed in the 1930s. Some of these treasures are difficult to see due to the mature trees in front of, or around them, and of course views of some of them are obscured by the ubiquitous wires, poles and parked cars that feature in most of my photographs below! However, it its well worth looking past these little annoyances to enjoy the architecture. I have not been able to secure details of the architects and date of construction for all of the buildings featured in this post and welcome any information that readers may have. Similarly it has proved difficult to find detailed information about the architects that I have identified so again all information is welcome! 

Perhaps the most imposing modernist structure on Massada Street is the apartment building at number 37. Completed in 1935 it was designed by David Wittmann. It is in need of some restoration but is still an striking building with its glazed "ladder"on the stairwell, art deco style portholes at the summit and rooftop terrace. The gardens in front of the building are overgrown but it is possible to walk up the steps from the pavement to the raised platform on which the house stands, look up, and appreciate this very large structure.The building's facade also features curved balconies with views over the city whilst it is also worth picking your way through the overgrown gardens to the side of the building to see more balconies, almost completely hidden from the street. Wittmann was also responsible for a modernist building at 35 Moriah Avenue further up the Carmel.

37 Massada Street
35 Massada Street
42 Massada Street
The corner building across the street, number 42 Massada was designed by the Hungarian born architect Leon Vamos and completed in 1936. Another apartment building, it too has a roof terrace and glazed stairwell but unfortunately some of the balconies have been enclosed - something that has happened to many of Israel's modernist buildings, in a bid to acquire extra internal space, often for growing families.

42 Massada Street
Number 33 is also worth a look, particularly for its glazed stairwell. Some of the panes are missing today but look up to see the impressive sweep of this cement clad and rectangular glazed section. The architect responsible for this building was Bruno Kalitzki. Born in Chemnitz in 1890, he graduated from the city's Royal Gymnasium in 1906 and went on to study architecture at the University of Charlottenburg in Berlin.  Kalitzki served in the German army during the First World War before going on to establish his own architectural practice with one Walter Naumann. He designed a couple of cinemas in Chemnitz but his promising career in Germany came to an end in 1933 following the election of the Nazis when together with his non-Jewish wife he left the country to live and work in Haifa until his death in 1953. His cinemas in Chemnitz were destroyed in bombing raids during the War.

33 Massada Street
Number 43 is a beautiful apartment building with a cafe on the ground floor and residential premises above. Unfortunately the details of the architect are unknown but it is probably safe to assume that it was built around the same time as the neighbouring modernist structures. I particularly like the two balconies, the upper one topped by a "lid". Note the red flag on the first floor balcony - its actually the flag of China!

43 Massada Street
43 Massada Street
Facing number 43 on the opposite side of the street, there is another beautiful modernist building. Dating from 1936 this apartment block is an interesting combination of styles. The small rounded balconies on the facade topped with a shelf to protect residents from the sun are modernist and many similar examples can be found in the city. The unclad stone around the communal entrance reflects the approach to modernism in Jerusalem and in other parts of Haifa and contrasts with the cement covered facade. However, the shape of the house and the taller middle section make mild references to some of the Arab architecture in the city. 

I was charmed by this building (which is again undergoing some kind of restoration) but it is a shame that those spectacularly ugly air conditioning units have been placed above the entrance, not to mention the prison style bars on the window at first floor level. On a more positive note, those curtains hanging outside the first floor windows are a photographer's dream! The exterior wall bears a plaque explaining that the house was restored in 2001 and won second prize in a competition to improve the look of the city whilst a further plaque names the "engineer" responsible for the building as one S. Rimon.

You can find out about the many other modernist buildings in Haifa from the recently published book "Carmel - The International Style in Haifa". The book is authored by Ines Sonder and features the photographs of Stephanie Kloss. You can buy a copy in most branches of Steimatzky or at Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus Center at 99 Dizengoff.

All of the buildings featured in this post are close together and can be seen in a leisurely 20 minutes visit. Massada is one of the stations on the Carmelit - Haifa's underground funicular railway and so it is easy to combine a stop here with visits to the attractions further up the Carmel or lower down the mountain in the Down Town area, German Colony or Hadar. There are also several good cafes on Massada Street where you can stop for a refuel before continuing to explore the city.

44 Massada Street
44 Massada Street

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Modernism restored - Poliashuk and Recanati, Tel-Aviv architectural icons

Tel Aviv is home to the world's greatest collection of modernist buildings with over 4,000 examples of the style having been constructed during the late 1920's and throughout the 1930's. They were designed primarily by Jewish architects driven out of Europe in the lead up to the Second World War with such luminaries as Arieh Sharon, Dov Carmi, Genia Averbuch, Ze'ev Haller and Arieh Cohen all leaving their mark on the city. This unique built heritage led to the city securing UNESCO World Heritage site status in 2003, which in turn helped provide both a measure of protection and the impetus for restoration and preservation.


On my recent visit to Tel Aviv I was delighted to see so many buildings both in the modernist/ Bauhaus styles and also the earlier eclectic style either under restoration or with work already completed. Two of my favourite buildings are looking especially grand having benefited from restoration and so reassuming much of their original glory. Both occupy corner locations at busy junctions and both were designed by the same architectural team - Solomon Liaskowksy and Jacov Ornstein. 

The Poliashuk House at number 1 Nachalat Binyamin Street holds a commanding position at the junction with Allenby. Both were formerly very grand streets and this spot remains one of the focal points of Tel-Aviv due to the weekend art and crafts market, the Shuk Ha-Carmel with its fresh fruit, vegetables and spices (and lots more) and the lively cafe and bar scene in the area. For many years the house was in a poor state, covered in graffiti, its original sparkle lost to decades of grime. Construction was completed in 1934 with offices on the upper floors and retail below. Owner Yehdua Polashiuk filled the building with 50 offices and 15 shops including the former Naalei Pil (Elephant shoe shop) on the corner. The shop had legendary status amongst the city's children as it was the first store in Tel-Aviv to give balloons and yo-yo's to its young customers. In addition to this, the building housed a clandestine Etzel printing press, producing flyers and papers agitating for independence during the period of the British Mandate



Cleaned of the dirt of decades, it is now possible to get an idea of its original grandeur with its roof top terrace and pergola, art deco portholes, rectangular balconies, streamline design and beautiful corner curve. The exterior walls are covered in beige ceramic tiles, differing from the usual plaster cladding of the period and adding further interest to the design. Unfortunately, some of the original features from the ground floor shops have gone and that wonderful corner is now home to a burger bar, but I suppose you can't have everything. There are several other modernist and eclectic style buildings in Nachalat Binyamin, including the Arieh Cohen designed Shaltiel House at number 3, completed in 1935 and the Dekel House at number 8 designed in the eclectic style by Yehoshua Zvi Tabachnik, completed in 1922. Number 5, opposite, also restored is another of Tabachnik's works.




Architects Liaskowsky and Ornstein worked together on a number of projects. Liaskowsky was born in Zurich and studied at the Technikum in Winterthur, Switzerland, albeit without graduating. He then spent time in both Belgium and Paris, working and studying before winning a commission to build a synagogue in Zurich in 1929. The synagogue was never completed as the Zurich Jewish community, unnerved by the rise of the right in neighbouring Germany, abandoned the project and Liaskowsky left for Eretz Israel. His visit was meant to be brief but having met Jacov Ornstein in Jaffa and being offered a partnership in Ornstein's engineering office, he decided to stay. They then completed several projects together before the Arab riots of 1938 led to Liaskowsky moving on again, this time to Argentina where he had relatives and where he went on to design residential, commercial and industrial buildings as well as to complete projects for the Jewish community.

Ornstein was born in Vienna where he studied construction and civil engineering, graduating in 1908. He served in the Austrian army in the First World War before leaving for Eretz Israel in 1920 where his early projects were primarily residential buildings in the eclectic style before moving on to modernism. The British appointed him chief engineer in charge of building Allenby Street where he developed the single paving style that is still in use today. Ornstein married Margalit Oppenheimer, a well-known ballerina and dance teacher and designed a ballet studio on the top floor of the final family home at 42 Ahad Ha'am Street. Their two daughters, Yehudi and Shoshana went on to become successful dancers in the 1950's and 1960's. 


The Recanati House at 35 Menachem Begin Road (formerly Petah Tikveh Road) was completed in 1935 at the request of businessman Leon Recanati. It was designed on a trapezoid plot with residential quarters on the upper level and retail on the ground floor facing the main road. The building is striking for its rounded balconies that sit underneath rounded awnings on Menachem Begin Road, whilst the Mazeh Street side sports square balconies set more widely apart.  The building is very long and with just three stories, the balconies stand out even more than they would on a taller structure. Having fallen into poor condition over several decades, the house was restored by Bar Orian Architects in 2000. The restoration included works to the plaster balconies and wooden windows, whilst the garden in the rear inner courtyard was also reconstructed. Works to a number of buildings have included the addition of extra, discrete storeys but the Recanati House has maintained its original size which in turn has meant it retaining the unique impact of those balconies.

A little further away from the centre of things than the Poliashuk House, the Recanati building is just a short step from my favourite Tel-Aviv building, number 56 Mazeh, designed by Ze'ev Berlin and completed in 1932 as the original printing office for the Ha'aretz newspaper. Liaskowsky and Ornstein worked together for just four short years. Within that time they provided Tel-Aviv with two of its most iconic modernist buildings. What might they have achieved together had Liaskowsky remained in Israel?




You might also like Picture Post 22 - 5 Frug Street, Tel-Aviv

Friday, 18 March 2016

Picture Post 51 - The Bazoza House, beautifully restored Tel-Aviv Bauhaus



I have walked along Tel Aviv's HaNevi'im Street countless times on my way to the Museum of Art, the Cameri Theatre and the Opera House. How can it be that until this week I haven't noticed number 1 Shimshon HaGibor which stands on the corner where that street meets HaNevi'im? Both street names have biblical origins - HaNevi'im means the Prophets, whilst Shimshon HaGibor might be better known to some readers as Samson of Samson and Delilah fame. HaGibor means hero. Well there are a few heroes linked to the beautiful building that stands on this spot - original architects Avraham Berger and Yitzhak Mandelbaum and also Nitza Smuk Architects who were responsible for the building's restoration in 2011.

Built for the Bazoza family and completed in 1935, this three storied building is one of several that Berger and Mandelbaum designed and built during the 1930's. The facade includes a variety of balconies, rectangular and rounded, a range of roof levels, a glazed stairwell and of course, that delicious curve on the junction of the two streets. The rounded balconies on the Shimshon HaGibor end add a touch of drama, protruding from the side of the block and contrasting sharply with their squared-off neighbors. The facade is clad in washed plaster known as waschputz and this was renewed during the 2011 restoration. 




This block benefits from protected building status and was therefore identified for strict preservation. This means that the facade we see today is what the original residents saw back in 1935 with no compromises such as additional floors or other extensions that feature in some Tel Aviv restorations. However, some internal changes were made including the addition of a lift and amendments to the way the apartments are divided. I have not been able to see inside but understand that extensive reconstruction of some of the original decorative features was also carried out, including mosaic surfaces in the stairwells, iron handrails and wooden entrance doors. 

The Szmuk practice that restored the building are specialists in working on heritage buildings. Nita Szmuk was heavily involved in helping Tel-Aviv secure World Heritage status for its Bauhaus buildings, commencing by completing an architectural survey for the municipality in 1989. She headed its conservation department from 1990 to 2002 and authored Dwelling on the Dunes, a survey of the city's Bauhaus buildings, published in 1994. Her book can be purchased at Tel Aviv's wonderful Bauhaus Center at 99 Dizengoff where you can also pick up lots of other books and information on architecture as well as booking a Bauhaus architectural tour every Friday morning.

The Bazoza House is featured in the Avner Gicelter's TLV Buildings project which captures images of Tel Aviv's built heritage, repacking them as stylized posters and postcards which can be purchased online if you can't travel to Tel Aviv to see this building for yourself!

Architect Berger was born in the Ukraine, emigrated to Eretz Israel before studying engineering in France and returning to Tel Aviv in 1935 where he went on to develop a successful professional partnership with Mandelbaum. Together they were responsible for a number of buildings in the city including the Landa House on Melchett Street and the Gerber House on Chen Boulevard. The Gerber House is a short walk from Shimshon HaGibor. Even after many years of visiting this wonderful city there are new things to see!