Story Time Sunday, 02/09/14: 14 and 2 — a semi-true fairy tale

imageOnce upon a time there were 14 architects. They lived in a new country and spoke a new language invented by linguistics scientists in a secret desert laboratory. The scientists worked with teeth sounds and tongue sounds and found the perfect words to go with the human mouth and then they came out and taught the populace this new language written on mirrors that reflected the pure truth of vowels and consonants. Everyone danced for joy and immediately wrote poems and songs and analyses and plans for the future of this glorious language tradition in this empty landscape.

But this new language required new accommodations in which to put the owners of the tongues and teeth and mouths. “Where can we study the science of newness,” said the 14 and they breathed on the scientific mirrors and the answer was N-O-R-T-H.  So, the 14 packed their bags and set sail for the north. There they found the scientific planners of building perfection who lived in the snow of the old, quietly planting the seeds of the new. The planners liked these strange-speaking foreigners and taught them all they knew about triangles and metal and concrete and balconies. The showed the architects of the new language how the absolutely simple could be the absolutely beautiful. Like numbers and graphs and the way asymmetry can make something plain something wonderful. And that everyone should have their own garden, just for them.

12 of the 14 learned from the planners in the snow white classrooms of winter.


They worked with icicles and the frozen breath on windows. They dreamt of how to translate the white cold into heat. They studied and learned.

What happened to the other 2?

One of them was a farm boy. He had grown up, not in a city, but in a big country house where everyone shared what they had and his family was a family of 10 other families and then 20 and then 30 — all  people who loved him and were his companions, and relatives, co-workers, and friends. They lived with horses and chickens and plants. The boy knew how to dig a well, and how to build a barn, and how to pick fruit from a tree, and how to till the ground. The farm boy went to the north but he did not like it. He did not like the icicles and the gardens just for one family. “I feel as you do,” said one of the planners — who was something of a renegade — and the 2 of them left the north for the east and they fought in wars, and dreamed of huge farmhouses where whole towns could live.

The other was a girl — the only girl of the 14 architects. She went to the north with the others but the planners would not allow her in to the classroom of snow. They rejected her saying “No, you are not good enough to play with the ice of math and the simplicity of cold numbers.” So, she went west, and then south, asking whoever knew about building to help her. And she was so nice, that they did, and she learned more than any of them, because she was not afraid of adventure. She studied churches, and waffles in their waffle-irons, and cuckoos in their cuckoo clocks, because when you make anything you are building something, and building something is practice for building more.

The 14 returned to their new country with their perfect new language, and the mayor of the newest city said “who shall build my town square?” Each of the 14 had an idea, but the mayor not impressed.

“What do you have to say for yourself young lady,” said the mayor to the girl, who had not yet spoken.

“I shall build you a square,” said the girl, “But it will be a circle, because the circle is the most perfect figure, and therefore the most beautiful and the most harmonious.” The mayor was impressed. “What of entertainments?”  he asked and she said “Simple, ” and she proposed a theater for the watching of recorded images that moved on a machine made of spools. The building was wavy and rounded like the mechanical process so that watchers could feel refreshed entering and leaving this place.

Cinema Hotel (Cinema Esther) designed by Genia Averbuch
Cinema Hotel (Cinema Esther) designed by Genia Averbuch
the "thermometer" -- White City, Tel Aviv
the “thermometer” — White City, Tel Aviv

The mayor was mystified and impressed by this answer, so he gave the girl the most important commission in the new city, and she built the town center as a circle, flanked by a theater for the beholding of these winding images projected on a screen.

The farm boy also got his special chance with the job of building a set of buildings all looking onto a garden — apartments that reminded him of his farm, because neighbors were connected and could share what they grew, even in the city.

cooperative apartments designed by Arieh Sharon
cooperative apartments designed by Arieh Sharon

Would it surprise you to know that the 12 remaining architects did not complain that their colleagues got such special treatment? There was still plenty of work to do, so they did it. They built hundreds of simple perfect houses and — in honor of the northern planners — made all of them white.

And still their descendants are building in this city, and still the city stands with its white balconies where people hang out their laundry and call to their neighbors in their curious invented language, tongues flicking against their perfect white teeth.

Historical note: The White City is a real place: a UNESCO designated historical site in Tel Aviv, containing more Bauhaus buildings than any other city in the world. Genia and Arieh are also real people, and Genia really did design the famous Diezengoff Square, which is indeed a circle.

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