The Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv is at its 20th anniversary as popular as it has ever been. Travelers to Tel Aviv as well as locals love it for its Tel Aviv White City Bauhaus Tours, it has a Bauhaus Shop and Art Gallery with changing exhibitions, it creates its own exhibitions that travel the globe, and it publishes books and catalogs. How did it come to be? Read here a conversation with its co-founder Dr. Micha Gross.
Micha Gross, you moved from Switzerland to Tel Aviv in 1994 with a background in Psychology, and today you are Mr. Bauhaus in Tel Aviv – how did that happen?
Actually I already studied from 1987-90 at the Technion-Haifa, where I reached my PhD in Biology of Behavior. Following these years I was offered a very good job as an assistant professor at the University Zürich in the department of Clinical Psychology, headed by Prof. Inge Strauch a well known sleep and dream researcher. When my wife and I decided to go back to Tel Aviv in 1994, I was lucky enough to get again a job at the famous Sleep Laboratory of the Technion in Haifa under Prof. Peretz Lavie.
How did the Bauhaus Center happen then?
Our growing fascination concerning the modernist heritage of the White City in Tel Aviv was our inspiration…
An idea born from curiosity and passion?
Indeed, no clear “business plan” or research question was leading us. It was a kind of “learning by doing”. Every day dealing with this subject we just got more and more into it. And this passion really invaded my entire life, even my children started calling me: “Mr. Bauhaus”.
And people just came on the tours, there was a demand from day 1?
Yes, the success was overwhelming. Already our first Bauhaus Tour was attended by dozens of Tel Avivians. My wife Shlomit was the guide of this tour and we published it in the legendary “Achbar HaYir” – back then the only printed weekly guide for happenings in Tel Aviv. The huge interest of the public gave us the push to go on, and to rent a location with the aim to establish a real Bauhaus Center.
Who are the people that book a tour? Today? 20 years ago?
Today we have even more visitors from abroad than locals. Architecture as a topic of tourism is more and more popular and we feel this global trend also in Tel Aviv.
Why does the world love Bauhaus, until today? How did it become such a well known ‚brand‘?
In psychology we talk about multi factorial influences – in chronological order I would say: Walter Gropius has been said to have been an excellent Public Relations man. He turned a peripheral school for design and architecture into “brand” – already back in the days. While the use of industrial techniques and functional principles in architecture and design where very common through the 1920s and 1930s, today that is mostly identified with the Bauhaus – this might be in part the result of Gropius excellent PR for his brand.
And until today, the popularity and visibility of modernist design is still increasing, modernist icons are present in more and more homes like a Le Corbusier Chair, a reproduction of a Kandinsky or a Lamp designed by Wagenfeld. To the point where we can compare it to the Persian Carpet as a status symbol in the beginning of the 20th century…
Now this year in 2019 there has been a veritable boom – the 100 Year Anniversary of the idea and school of Bauhaus – is that a lasting effect, did this anniversary and all the media coverage around it, set a new Bauhaus hype in motion that will last?
The Bauhaus100 festivities had been prepared by the German government for nearly a decade. Five years ago we already had a meeting with a German “Minister” in charge only for the organization of the Bauhaus year.
The huge succes of this centenary is the result of hard work. In addition to the efforts and the financial funds invested by the German government, the Bauhaus Style is today very much loved by a wide public. And in addition to the popularity of the Bauhaus esthetics today, the Bauhaus school stands also for a positive chapter of modern German history.
What is new – 20 years into the Bauhaus Center adventure – did the interpretation, focus, perspective on the topic change in any way through the years? How is it today compared to 20 years ago?
I think our Bauhaus Center in Tel Aviv started as a special-interest project on the fringes. Today, after 20 years we are mainstream. In the bigger picture: Since the UNESCO declaration of 2003, the White City Architecture of Tel Aviv is under preservation law and it is not anymore in danger.
Still, improvements are of course possible: some of the latest preservation projects are of bad quality. I think in such cases more historical understanding would be appropriate.
You travel a lot this year, to conferences and exhibitions abroad where you speak about the experience with the White City in Tel Aviv – how is this relevant to other cities?
I think our approach as a private institution dealing with a public subject is rather unique. In times of less governmental engagement in cultural and social spheres, our model can be of interest also for other venues all over the globe. The combination of a commercial enterprise established in order to finance independent cultural activities is a sort of a “start-up” in cultural politics…
Speaking of other cities: Your work brought many tourists to Tel Aviv for its Bauhaus style. Which Bauhaus destination is on Your wish-list..?
There is several Bauhaus destinations I would really like to see: Yekaterinburg the “capital” of Sovjet Constructivism and Asmara, the capital of Eritrea with its modern heritage, built through Italian colonisation are my favorites.
Shandigar in India, planned by Le Corbusier and Le Havre in France would be destination 3 and 4 on such a list of destinations which I would like to see.
Also 20 years after founding the Bauhaus Center, it is still a passion first of all for everyone working at the Bauhaus Center, and we feel privileged to be able to share this passion with all the visitors to the center. See you soon!