The presentation of this exhibition on kibbutz architecture at the Bauhaus Dessau accords this well-known saying by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe a specific social and historical context and charges it with a distinctive symbolic and human meaning.
No place could be more apt or more emotionally moving for an exhibition on kibbutz architecture: from the moment of its inauguration, the Bauhaus building, planned by Walter Gropius in 1926–1927, became a site of pilgrimage. It was the epitome of modern architecture, the values of which, as architecture, are inseparably linked with its social vision, thus making it an inspiration that is especially relevant today.
The Bauhaus, as we know, was not a monolithic entity, and its activities embraced different and even contradictory orientations. But it is engraved in the collective memory principally because it made its central concern the welfare of the people; it became a model for the way it embodied an architecture informed by a spirit of social reform based on social justice. Its actions carried the message that even people without means had the right to an aesthetic environment, to light, to air, to fair living conditions and to suitable and functional furniture – and that architecture’s commitment was to mobilize the currently available means to supply these needs.
In the deepest sense, the aim of Bauhaus architecture was to take into account the entire totality of human existence, and to bring the requirements of both the individual and the community into mutual harmony.
And although the kibbutz, as a form of communal settlement, came into being before the inception of the Bauhaus, and its founders in the first two decades of the 20th century came mainly from Eastern Europe, it is very significant that this exhibition emphasizes the rich and fruitful set of affinities between the kibbutz and the Bauhaus.
The architects of the kibbutzim aspired to an architecture based on internal relationships, not on icons of architectural form as representing status and power. Like the architects of the Bauhaus, they aspired to an architecture that acts to create a harmonious balance of individual and society.
The architects and planners of the kibbutzim believed that the constitutive picture of a society would be found in its form of settlement, and that the structure of the settlement reflects the deep structure and values of that society.
They engaged in planning a form of settlement that had no precedent in the past, for which no architectural form had ever been designed – a voluntary, communal, agricultural/industrial society based on equality, communality and mutual aid: communal responsibility and ownership of land and property, and full education and health services throughout its members’ entire life cycle, including their old age.
One could say that the structure of the kibbutz settlement embodied in the most comprehensive and meaningful way the “integrality” of landscape environment and architecture that was promoted in the Bauhaus – a planning that embraces the diversity of functions of a space of human habitation.
The total space of a kibbutz, including its industrial areas, is entirely gardened. Reflected in its fabric are many-nuanced internal relationships that integrate with one another without any fences or partitions: private space and public space, collective space that is also intimate, work space and leisure space, residences, spaces for education, culture, social interaction.
Like the Bauhaus, the kibbutz sought to integrate manual work and mental work, and to build an agricultural/industrial community for which culture and art are an inseparable part of their very existence, of the life of the individual and of the community. Much thought and effort were devoted to the public space and to the establishment of cultural institutions, on a scale and of a quality that are far from common in peripheral rural settlements.
More than a hundred years have passed since the kibbutz settlement took its first steps. Since then, some 250 kibbutzim have been built throughout Israel – in the Negev and in Galilee, on the coastal plain and in the Jordan Valley.
Each kibbutz has its architectural distinctiveness, which is attentive to its specific landscape and topography. This local distinctiveness derives from the collaborative planning by the architects together with the inhabitants, the members, who have come from many different countries of origin and have influenced the tones of the style and the emphases. Different kibbutzim crystallized different variants of the conception of communal life, which have found expression in the architectural planning. Nonetheless, anyone entering through the gate of a kibbutz will have no difficulty recognizing where he is. From the entrance road one can look out at the settlement’s outer ring of agriculture and industry, which is separated by a green strip from the rings of residential areas. The entrance road leads to the center of the settlement, to the core of the public space – the dining hall with its inviting plaza and a large lawn that serves as an open space for social encounters on ordinary days and on holidays. The core of the settlement also contains the library, a members’ clubhouse, a culture hall. And around it will be the children’s houses, characterized by the junkyard playgrounds – a distinctive kibbutz feature that was developed as a pedagogical architectural conception by Malka Haas, who was born in Berlin, and whose original contribution and personality are represented in the exhibition being shown here.
The dining hall, which constitutes the center of cultural, organizational and social activities, is reminiscent in its structure of the Bauhaus building in which this exhibition is being shown. Its walls contain large glass windows through which one can look around at the lawns and the paths – the exterior and the interior blend with one another and from the inside one can see the fabric of the settlement – main roads that divide into secondary roads that arrive at narrow paths to the doors of the residential homes.
After the inauguration of Gropius’ Bauhaus building, Rudolf Arnheim wrote: “It is a triumph of purity, clarity and generosity. Looking in through the large windows you can see people hard at work or relaxing in private.” This is a modern architecture that also characterizes the public buildings in the kibbutzim – an architecture that simultaneously accords a sense of place that signifies an identity, and a sense of space that signifies mobility – glass walls do not block access inward: this is not the opaque glass of the global architecture that prevents seeing the inside from the outside. The wide, transparent, glass windows project openness, accessibility, and dynamic reciprocal relations between the interior and the exterior.
The kibbutz has undergone great changes during the hundred years of its existence. Its architectural space was flexible and adaptable to the changing times by virtue of the integrality underlying its planning conception, and mainly thanks to the absence of partitions into rigid functions and division into privately owned areas.
In recent years many of the kibbutzim have been going through processes of privatization, which also include a trend to parcelization of the land. Although in the kibbutzim that are changing many efforts have been invested in endeavors to shape a new kind of community solidarity, no similar efforts have been made in the architectural context. While the new kibbutzim are trying to shape a system of mutual guarantorship at a level unknown in any other community organization, architectural planning has lagged behind in presenting architectural models capable of providing answers for the old-new system of community values and of bridging across the changes of the times. As a consequence, in most of the kibbutzim, and following government guidelines, a standard suburban model has been adopted that threatens to swallow up the integral, organic space that was shaped in the kibbutz over many decades.
Beyond its thematic, universal, significance, this exhibition, in its distinctive present location at the Bauhaus in Dessau, is of great value and importance for Israel. It focuses public attention on the phenomenon of the kibbutz and the uniqueness of its architecture, a subject that had not been recognized for decades – because despite its extent and its originality, kibbutz architecture was not perceived, in Israel or elsewhere in the world, as a sphere worthy of research, preservation, or specific planning thought for the future.
It was the architect Yuval Yasky who conceived the initiative to present an exhibition on kibbutz architecture at the Venice Biennale in 2010 – an exhibition that the two of us jointly curated. In the framework of his teaching work at the Department of Architecture at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem, a department he today heads, and as a planner and a social activist, Yuval Yasky is working tirelessly to crystallize an alternative model to the suburban model that is presently the only recognized model for construction in the areas included in the governmental “Rural Planning” scheme.
The times in Israel are not easy, as everyone knows, and there is room for concern. In the past summer, and currently as well, movements of young people are attracting tens of thousands of residents from all sections of the population, and for the first time in many years a message of solidarity and social justice is being raised in the squares of the major cities and, no less importantly, also in peripheral towns and villages.
Like the Bauhaus, the kibbutz is not merely an architecturally distinctive cluster of buildings that may be either preserved or destroyed. The kibbutz is a “semiophor” – a physical space that carries a meaning, carries a message of solidarity that embodies a call for the crystallization of an architecture that integrates working hands with a social agenda and vision that are relevant to the entire society and not only to a few.
The architect Yuval Yasky and I want to express our heartfelt thanks to the Director of the Bauhaus, Professor Philipp Oswalt; to the Bauhaus’ researcher Dr. Werner Möller; to the devoted team, and especially to Nicole Minten, for having chosen to connect the phenomenon of the kibbutz with their project and to thus illuminate the special affinities that exist between the kibbutz and the Bauhaus.
Beyond the direct influence – Germany and the Bauhaus as a point of departure for architects who had absorbed the spirit of the time in Germany and/or had studied at the Bauhaus, as had Arieh Sharon, Shmuel Mestechkin and Munio Gitai Weinraub (the film installation “Traces, Munio Gitai Weinraub” is installed by Amos Gitai in the Schlemmer Master’s House ) – this exhibition offers a fascinating world of international affinities. It evokes the marvelous dynamic of international influence and cross-fertilization in the course of which ideas undergo transformations and take on new and surprising contexts.
Only an idea has the power to spread so far – and only active human involvement, which relates to the entire domain of man and society, can animate the idea with life and meaning.