Beit Ha’ir: icon of the White City
Beit Ha'ir, recently renovated by the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, forms part of the Bialik complex; a centre of Hebrew and Israeli culture. It is also part of the "White City" of Tel Aviv.
The White City was awarded the status of world cultural heritage site by Unesco in 2004, as "an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century". This award brought tremendous nachas to all those involved in the preservation of the distinctive style of urban planning that characterised pre-State Tel Aviv.
Little did the architects and town-planners realise, when fleeing from Nazi Germany even before the war had started, just how famous their architectural contribution to the new Jewish city would eventually become. The Bauhaus School of Art and Design was one of the most popular and famous in Europe during the 1920s to1930s. Its style of architecture is very distinctive and circumstances led to Tel Aviv having 4,000 examples of buildings in this style, more than any other town in the world. But it wasn't only the style that led to Unesco's decision; it was also the way the architects had adapted the Bauhaus design to suit the climate and surroundings which were so different from conditions in Europe where it had been developed. One of the changes was the white stone (hence the name White City), designed to reflect the Mediterranean heat.
Beit Ha'ir is intended as an open house for residents and tourists alike who want to become more acquainted with Tel Aiviv and its history and culture. As Ayelet Bitan- Shlonsky, the chief curator and director, explains, its aim is to join the old and the new.
Two years ago, Tel Aviv celebrated its 100th birthday and the current exhibition, The Visible City, documents photographs and stories presenting events, sites and experiences of the inhabitants of the city during its first 100 years. This project is collaboration between municipal groups and the city's communities - a combination that demonstrates precisely the purpose of the complex.
There is also a virtual exhibit, presenting an extensive database enabling the visitor to take a virtual-tour of the city's "life-line" - a chronological display with photographs and documents of landmark events during the city's early years.
The original tenant of the older section of Beit Ha'ir was Tel Aviv's first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. His office is meticulously reconstructed and there is also a permanent exhibition about his work.
Another building in this complex is Beit Bialik, the original home of Israel's national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. This building was considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Tel Aviv and it has been completely renovated and redecorated while remaining true to the original style. Each room and floor is decorated in its own highly distinctive manner. It now acts as a museum and archives of Hebrew culture and an exhibition of Bialik's work and life as well as providing room for children's activities.