Tel Aviv/ Social make-up brought by the International Style (Cooperative housing)

International buildings did not just satisfy the aspirations of the new Jews of Palestine and adapt to the Jewish immigrants from Europe. More importantly, it brought about social make-up and rise in living conditions in Tel Aviv, especially with the introduction of the cooperative workers’ apartments.

The International Style was the first time that architects addressed the needs of the lower and middle classes and not just those of the aristocracy. The International Style received its name because the architects behind the concept believed that human needs were the same everywhere, such as neighbourhood identity, security, and quality of life.

Tel Aviv was becoming the centre of the Labour movement by the end of the 1920s. 75% of the Jewish working-class population lived in urban areas, but a lot of them were suffering from poorer conditions than the average 2.2 people/room at that time. In 1931-1937 almost 3,000 buildings were constructed in Tel Aviv (in the following eight years less than 1,000). 20 were kibbutz/ cooperative housing which were built on four different sites. Tel Aviv also has the largest number of cooperative workers’ apartments in the country. Though they make up a small portion (only 393 housing units) out of the buildings in the 30s, they represented a change in organization of urban space and also social life of the low-income group.

For the Jewish settlers who emigrated from Europe to Palestine in the 30s, the kibbutz presented a new form of communal living – a radical and voluntary application of socialist principles – which also necessitated new forms of housing. Arieh Sharon, a Jewish architect who built 13 collective housings, mentioned in his book Kibbutz+ Bauhaus that, ”The Tel aviv Bauhaus or the white City was stylized petit-bourgeois object.” He was more interested in kibbutz which championed an anti-bourgeois spirit. The socialist ideology behind it was to provide residents with as much equality in living quarters.

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A.Sharon inspiration of Cooperative Housing IV-V-VI (1934-1936) ©
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Perspective view of the interior courtyard of Cooperative Housing IV-V-VI (1934-1936) ©
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Perspective view of the interior courtyard of Cooperative Housing IV-V-VI (1934-1936) ©

The Cooperative Housing series designed by Arieh was an exemplar of clean and functional apartment whose lines were regular and simple to reduce construction costs. In the basement level, which turned inwards to the garden, were the social functions of the housing estate: the grocery, laundry, clinic, reading room, nursery and so on. The internal courtyard symbolized the significance of working in the garden and the bond with the soil. From a social perspective, the interior structure was a declaration of segregation from bourgeois city life. The large building block, prominent in the urban fabric, were later nicknamed the “laborer’s fortresses” and served to demonstrate the power of a homogenous society possessing self-organizational capacity. The Cooperative Worker’s Housing estates manifested the utopian aspiration for an egalitarian and perfectly planned community.

General plan and typical flat of Cooperative Housing VIII (1936)
General plan and typical flat of Cooperative Housing VIII (1936) ©

In cooperative housing, the entire property was planned as a total scheme, unlike the individual housing. The public open space was designed catering to the residents of the workers. Nonetheless, not many worker housing estates were built in Tel Aviv because of the difficulty in land acquisition due to low cost benefit. But such social ideas of communal living in a garden city served as a testimony to the potential of the Geddes scheme in Tel Aviv.


  1. Sharon, Aryeh. Kibbutz Bauhaus: An Architect’s Way in a New Land.
  2. “Cooperative Housing IV-V-VI, 1934-1936 – Arieh Sharon.” Arieh Sharon Cooperative Housing IVVVI 19341936 Gallery RSS. Accessed December 21, 2015.
  3. Des Maisons Sur Le Sable: Tel-Aviv, Mouvement Moderne Et Esprit Bauhaus = Dwelling on the Dunes : Tel Aviv, Modern Movement and Bauhaus Ideals. Paris: Eclat, 2004.
  4. Bandau, Irmel, and Winfried Nerdinger. Tel Aviv Modern Architecture, 1930-1939. Tübingen: Wasmuth, 1994.

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