Urban Spaces

Dizengoff Square first appeared on a master plan for the city of Tel Aviv conceived by Scottish town-planner Patrick Geddes in 1925. Up until the Geddes plan Tel Aviv developed as a "patchwork" of neighborhoods and built sections which were designed separately, or "emerged" randomly. The accelerated urban development required a "guiding hand", thus Geddes was commissioned to consolidate the city's image and identity. The Scottish planner endeavored to continue developing Tel Aviv's early identity as a "city of gardens and orchards". He had to focus on yet unbuilt areas, from Bograshov street all the way north to the Yarkon river. His scheme was based on a network of streets, where the main streets extend from south to north, parallel to the shoreline (Hayarkon, Ben Yehuda, Dizengoff, and Ibn Gvirol Streets), and the side streets are perpendicular to it. In the arrayment of boulevards, gardens and urban spaces incorporated in the plan, Dizengoff Square stands out with the streets channeling thereto. The square was named after Zina Dizengoff, wife of Meir Dizengoff, the city's first Mayor, after whom the street was named. Genia Averbouch and Y. Greenitz came in second in a public competition to design the square held in 1934, where a first prize was not awarded. In 1938 the square was inaugurated. The design enforced uniformity on the buildings around the square, despite their divergent functions. These buildings curve according to its shape. They are typified by horizontal stripes which convey a sense of "cyclical flow". The inner part of the square, designed by Genia Averbouch, was also adapted to a circle shape: Its center was "marked" by a fountain infusing vertical waters into a large round pool. The pool was encircled by a ring of lawn, a coarse sand path, and yet another circumferential ring of lawn with palm and other shady trees. The latter ring of lawn was intersected by four sand paths, linking the inner square with the sidewalks on the square's outer ring. The proportion between the buildings' height and the round space which they delineated generated an eye-pleasing scale, and the simple square became a lively center, and a symbol of the city of Tel Aviv. In 1987, due to the increase in traffic in the area, a decision was made to divide between vehicular and pedestrian routes. Instead of the inner ring, a raised square was built, underneath which the traffic runs. The elevated square rendered the buildings and the circumferential street secondary. The new design, which focused on solving traffic problems, manifests lack of architectural sensitivity to the ratios of size, materials and shapes characteristic of the original square. The fountain installed at the center of the raised square emits water, fire and music, yet appears like a displaced element foreign to the simplicity typifying the original square, fountain, and buildings.

This is not only a professional eyesore. Beyond the architectural value, International Style buildings serve as basic units upon which the entire urban tissue is founded, and if they were to be excluded, Tel Aviv would become a different city. "The first Jewish town", as well as Israel as a whole, confronts ("non-stop") inner struggles of cultural identity and self-image. The interrelations between "new" and "old", "international" and "local", form the infrastructure for the unique identity of every city or country. Tel Aviv has become "the Israeli metropolis", and as such, it still bears the image of a "cultural bridge" between us and the rest of the world. Tel Aviv is the "bridge" or "gate" to the new winds of times blowing from the west, but at the same time, it embodies the long history of Jaffa, and the memory of Neve Zedek and other old neighborhoods. Tel Aviv's identity is intricate and imbued with intrinsic contradictions: On one hand, distinct development tendencies, reinforcing its image as the Israeli metropolis and a bustling city, and on the other - attempts toward conservation and recognition of its past assets. Only recently did its citizens and leading institutions begin perceiving the "white city" as an asset that ought to be preserved, and as an essential part of the city's identity. In Tel Aviv, as elsewhere in the world, the International Style has acquired a local character. Tel Aviv, a "non-stop city", is still developing its unique identity; however, by now there is no doubt that the International Style buildings form a fundamental dimension of this identity.

Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City, MIT Press, 1982, p. @@.

The style which expressed the faith and hope for a "new world" has become history, memory. Just as memories are a crucial part of an individual's identity, so are collective memories an essential part of a city's identity. Tel Aviv's identity will continue to be nourished by these contradiction-ridden relations: between the need for renewal and the reality outlined in situ by the "old"; between "local tendencies" and the need and desire to be "a part of the world" which is gradually diminishing into a "global village". Treatment of International Style buildings does not stem from "reveling in the past", but rather from recognizing and accepting it as a part of Tel Aviv's complex current identity.