Magnificent Heritage

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Magnificent Heritage
Photo by Arik Rubin

Haifa's Bauhaus Buildings Have More Than Meets the Eye.
Haifa celebrated the 100 anniversary of the Bauhaus School, in a series of events in various parts of the city. Says Waleed Karkabi, Director of the Site Preservation Department of the Haifa Municipality, "When we mark a hundred years of the Bauhaus design and architecture school, which, of course, was founded in Weimar,

then moved to Dessau and Berlin - the first question is what has Haifa to do with this German institute, which existed for merely 14 years.

The answer is that the direct link may be very difficult to establish, but the influence this school had on architecture in Haifa in the 1930s was immense.

"A little background: The school was founded by architect Walter Gropius after the First World War, by request of the German Government, mainly to try to provide affordable housing for the masses of people who suffered the aftermath of war. Gropius, a leading architect in Germany, was one of the progenitors of modernism in architecture. He believed in minimalism in architecture, maximum functionalism and minimalistic costs in the establishment of residential buildings. The school, which at first did not even have architecture studies, but furniture design, interior design, photography and graphics - resided in Weimar, in a building designed by Henry Van de Velde, himself one of the forefathers of modernism. When a nationalistic city council rose to power there in 1928, nine years after its founding, they closed the school and had to move it to Dessau, where a Social Democratic party was in power. That also did not last long, because in 1932, the Nazis took over Dessau's city council, and then the school moved to Berlin, only to be closed again after a year by the SS. The Nazis were very much opposed to the modernist avant-garde movement, deeming it communist.

Haifa's Bauhaus Buildings Have More Than Meets the EyePhoto by Elad Gonen

"When the Great Aliyah began, in the early 1930s, some of these architects came to Haifa. They were not architects who were educated at the Bauhaus School itself, but were very much astonished by its modernist principles. They have found here a very fertile ground, in the midst of the amazing boom that occurred in Haifa in the 1930s and 1940s. Within a decade, in fact, they established Hadar HaCarmel Neighborhood, most of which buildings, in our estimate around 1,800, were built in the Bauhaus style. It should be noted, by the way, that Hadar HaCarmel began in 1919, when Patrick Geddes, the town planner, conceived the principles of the new neighborhood. Two years later, Richard Kauffman, chief architect of the Zionist Movement, applied Geddes' principles and transformed them into a statutory program with a new land parceling. Thus, when these architects arrived in the early 1930s, they were very quickly able to get building permits and quickly erect those buildings in the International Style, generally referred to in Israel as 'Bauhaus'. When we say 'Bauhaus' in Israel, we mean the International Style, or the modernist movement in general, which is not actually or necessarily from the Bauhaus School.

"Anyway, we thought it was really an extraordinary opportunity to expose these buildings to the public, and that was what we did; the Conservation Department has set up four exhibitions. Curator Galia Bar-On gave these events the title Social Bauhaus, and the intention was really to address the Bauhaus' original purpose, to solve housing problems. In the architectural aspect, what sets Haifa apart from Tel Aviv, for example, and this is something I would really like to stress, is that Haifa has always been a mixed city, so the mutual influences we had here, alongside the influence of the British Mandate on both Jews and Arabs, have produced a very unique modern style, that is vastly different from that in Tel Aviv, and a lot more diverse. Tel Aviv has simple Bauhaus buildings, with the characteristic plaster and round balconies and pergolas, the stairwells with the thermometer windows... but in Haifa there is something different; richer architecture. The architectural collaborations between the Arab elite that lived in Haifa and the same Jewish architects who arrived here in the 1930s, gave rise to what we semi-ironically call 'Arab Bauhaus', because we have a collection of buildings that are modern, but done in stone finish, which is something very typical of Haifa.

"Many of these buildings are still standing, whether on the seamline between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, at the Downtown area, or in French Carmel. Wonderful constructions, wonderful villas designed by those Jewish architects. Perhaps the most prominent example was the collaboration between architect Moshe Gerstel -who designed the iconic Talpiot Market building and the Arab elite. Gerstel came to Haifa from a very prosperous office in Bucharest, and for some reason clicked with the Arab elite. He started designing their homes, and after years won the contest for designing the Talpiot Market, and after that designed the old Carmel Hospital and then the Industrial House (Berma) and truly, the buildings designed by Gerstel for the Arab elite are an extraordinary thing.

"In June, we set up an exhibition called 100X100, a view of a hundred Bauhaus buildings in Haifa on the Bauhaus 100th anniversary, in which we exposed all these wonderful treasures that exist in the city. It was a very successful event; thousands of people visited the spots, not only from Haifa, but even the locals were enchanted. In addition, we mildly restored the Talpiot Market building, where we held another exhibition, Haifa Erfurt-Shared Modernism. We took a group of students from the Bauhaus school in Weimar, found in both cities buildings with common lines, and the result was a lovely exhibition. In the foyer of the City's Engineering Administration building we opened an exhibition by German photographer Stephanie Klaus, with close-ups on Haifa Bauhaus; Very exciting.

Photo by Reuven Cohen Photo by Reuven Cohen

"All in all, the events were highly successful, and we got the impression that the local public is waiting for more such events. We will really endeavor to continue our efforts to reach as many citizens as possible, especially in Haifa - some of whom live in these buildings and are not even aware of their value - so that they will better appreciate and love their homes.