Skateboarders zoom along the wavy planks of Tel Aviv's new boardwalk while beachgoers soak up the Mediterranean sun. A little further inland, couples and families, locals and tourists alike, linger amid the geometrical flower gardens of the cultural center of the city known as Habima Square. Yet that is just about where the term seaside town loses its relevance as a descriptor for Israel's second largest metropolis.
Tel Aviv is known by jet-setters the world over as the city that really never sleeps (sorry, New York), by culture aficionados as a hotbed of avant-garde art shows and concerts, theater and dance, and by architecture fans as home to the astonishing White City, a diverse collection of Bauhaus-inspired architecture from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s in the city center. In short, Tel Aviv bustles with a street life that rivals cities 10 times its size, crackling with the sounds of different languages – Hebrew and Arabic, English and Russian – and the buzz of cross-cultural creativity. “I don’t think Tel Aviv is beautiful in the way Paris is beautiful. But I think it is beautiful, although it’s also a bit ugly,” says architect Dana Oberson. Here are some of the spots Oberson, and Ninety Nine U, consider Tel Aviv must-sees.
Israeli architect Dana Oberson, a Tel Aviv native, wasn’t supposed to be an architect. Her father became one of Israel’s first haute couture designers, and her sister followed in his footsteps. Dana sidestepped fashion by studying graphic design, but in her first year, she says, “I figured out graphic design is too flat for me.” That realization has led Oberson to become a tour de force talent, in her own country and beyond, whose projects are as diverse as the cultures and countries from which she draws inspiration. “With some kinds of architects,” she says, “everything they do looks like they’ve done it. But I like moving from one space to another, creating a different dialogue with every client.” Besides her hometown’s vibrant mix of cultures, Oberson has been inspired lately by the architecture of Greece and Turkey, and Morocco and Namibia, in thinking about Israel’s identity as a Mediterranean country, and a country in the desert. “More than looking outwards to the States or to Asia, I think our lives and our climate really leave us, and should leave us, in the Mediterranean. The desert also makes you think of the environment in a way that is very interesting and very correct.”
Located in central Tel Aviv, Habima Square brims with culture: Habima Theatre, one of the world’s first Hebrew-language theaters (ha bima means “the stage”), and the Frederic R. Mann Auditorium, home to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and the largest concert hall in the city, flank it, and both were renovated extensively for the city’s centennial in 2009. But the square is beloved in its own right for its chill sunken garden, filled with flowers, trees, and people. “It has great design on a human scale that’s both inviting and friendly,” says Oberson. Dizengoff Street at Rothschild Boulevard
Tel Aviv Museum of Art
This national treasure, filled with Israeli, European, and American gems from the first half of the 20th century to the present, got an enormous boost in 2011 with the opening of the Herta and Paul Amir Building, built by American architect Preston Scott Cohen, on the museum’s western side. The striking white edifice doubled the museum’s exhibition space, and enabled the creation of a new architecture archive, sculpture garden, and photography center. Sderot Sha’ul HaMelech 27, Central
The White City
No city in the world has a more extensive collection of Bauhaus or International-style buildings than Tel Aviv. A great number of the 4,000-odd, predominantly white structures, which feature heavy walls and recessed windows to stave off the heat (unlike their window-centric precursors) were built by Bauhaus proponents who studied the style in Europe and fled to Palestine with the rise of the Nazis. UNESCO designated the neighborhood a World Heritage Site in 1993, and a great way to experience it is on a Bauhaus Center tour. Oberson’s personal favorites are the Anchor House by Phillip (Pinchas) Hitt (1935) and the Robinsky by Lucian Korngold (1936). The Bauhaus Center, Dizengoff Street, 77
Stop in at Fine Lab for some of the design shop’s “white grey & black inspiration,” as its website puts it. As you may have guessed, virtually everything the company does lies along the black-and-white spectrum, yet the effect is anything but stark. Rugs inscribed with text like “Hello/ I Love You/ Can’t You Tell Me Your Name?” share space with pillows, bed linens, and even a line for baby cribs. If you’re redoing a room, consider the white-and black-painted tree stumps that beg to be grouped together in an impromptu sculpture. Shabazi 7, Neve Tzedek
Market House Hotel
Though its decor is fundamentally modern – think white walls, spare furnishings, and straight lines – what gives the 44-room Market House Hotel in Jaffa its charm is that this is just the backdrop for such eclectic homespun flourishes as carefully curated artwork, contrasting textile pillows, quirky hanging lamps, and bathrooms that feel at once ancient and modern. You get the immediate sense that no two rooms at this boutique hotel are alike. Says Oberson, “Its art and wonderful atmosphere remind me of the small hotels in Marrakech.” 5 Beit Eshel St, Tel Aviv–Jaffa
Know Hope Studio
Sometimes called the Banksy of Israel, Addam Yekutieli, the artist better known as Know Hope, gained a following in Tel Aviv once he took his poetic, provocative art to the streets. Whether indoors or out, his site-specific works – from mixed-media installations and sculptures to murals and text-driven events – make an impact by blurring the line between political narrative and intuitive emotional intelligence. Oberson calls his artwork “invigorating.” Various locations