Posts tagged with "synagogues":

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Milton Resnick’s former studio reopens with retrospective of his work

Free and open to the public, the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation on Lower Manhattan’s Eldridge Street will open to the public on September 15 and 16. The art space is housed in a former synagogue where Resnick (1917-2004) lived and worked, while his wife Passlof (1928-2011) had her own converted synagogue one block over on Forsyth Street. Resnick was one of the original Abstract Expressionist painters and was close friends with Willem de Kooning, through whom he met his wife. Although the foundation is focused on their work, it will also present exhibitions of other artists, readings, performances, and lectures, and welcome scholars. The renovation by Ryall Sheridan Architects attempted to keep the spirit and openness of Resnick’s studio while bringing it up-to-date with such improvements as an elevator and modern-day climate-control. Whereas the original studio was dark and enveloping—it included a double-height space with bare brick walls, kept wide open for large-scale painting without furniture or lighting—the new Foundation is light and open. With blonde-and-gray slat wood floors, white walls, LED track lighting, slate-gray metal staircases, riveted Corten steel plates, exposed brick walls, white scrim blinds, wood joists, silver-handled door pulls, and Duravit sinks in the bathrooms, it has the animus of a Chelsea art gallery. The only traces of its ecclesiastical past are the tall windows in the double-height exhibition space on floors two and three (formerly the painting studio and before that the temple assembly), which are capped with round windows and three carved rosettes on the exterior’s top floor facade along with the inscription of the synagogue’s name and date. The building, originally a tenement, was purchased in 1888 and converted into Bnai Tifereth Yerushalayim (Sons of the Glory of Jerusalem) and the Mesivta Tifereth Yerushalayim. The congregation removed the third floor to create the tall sanctuary, and Resnick later removed the women’s balconies. In the 1960s, a Syrian Orthodox church bought the building, flipped it to the Lincoln African Methodist Episcopal Church, who then sold it to a developer, who converted it into a warehouse and later sold to Resnick in 1977. Passlof’s 1874 synagogue, which the couple purchased in 1963 for $20,000 when it was condemned, was home to Kol Israel Anshe Poland, which installed Gothic windows and fire escapes sporting Stars of David. Passlof’s Forsyth Street building was sold in 2012 for $6.4 million to fund the renovation of the Eldridge Street building. It can be viewed from the back windows of the Foundation, along with new skyscrapers ranging from One World Trade Center, the Herzog & de Meuron tower on Leonard Street, the Gehry Tower on Spruce Street, and a new hotel in Chinatown peeking above the skyline. In fact, the entire Lower East Side neighborhood is still filled with relatively small houses of worship on side streets: the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum at 280 Broome Street for the Romaniote Jews of Greece, the Angel Orensanz Center at 172 Norfolk Street, Bialystoker Synagogue at 7 Willett Street, Congregation Sons of Moses at 135 Henry Street, Stanton Street Shul at 180 Stanton Street, Congregation Chasam Sopher at 10 Clinton Street, and the granddaddy of them all, the Eldridge Street Synagogue with Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans Rose Window at 12 Eldridge Street. Resnick was born in Ukraine, then part of Russia, the year of the Russian Revolution in 1917. His Jewish family emigrated to the U.S. in 1922, and he studied at the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York City with the intention of becoming an architect. Because the Depression stifled construction, he switched to Pratt for commercial art, then to the American Artists School for fine art. After working for the WPA Federal Art Project, he was drafted into the Army during World War II and studied in Paris afterward. There he met Giacometti, Brancusi, Tristan Tzara, and other art-world luminaries. On his return, he moved into a studio on East 8th Street, where de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock worked. During the summer of 1948, he first met Passlof, a student of de Kooning’s, who told her Resnick was the individual he “respects more than any other.” The work in the inaugural display, Milton Resnick: Paintings 1937–1987, shows his paintings and drawings, ranging from colorful figurative works to large-scale monochromatic pieces. As he became infirm, Resnick confined himself to the third floor where he worked in a converted closet. This small studio has been preserved with paint splatters, images of Rasputin tacked to the walls, family photos, bas-reliefs of faces and animals, a Polaroid of a tree, Chinese sculpture, his own doodling, jars of paint, cans of brushes, bottles of ink, and a pair of rubber slippers.
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Landmarks approves partial demolition of Lower East Side synagogue destroyed by fire

Update 7/12/17: The article was updated to clarify the resolution the commissioners voted on yesterday afternoon. On Tuesday the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) debated how to preserve a Manhattan synagogue gutted by fire earlier this year. Instead of approving the owner's request to demolish the building entirely, the commission agreed that important parts of the structure should be salvaged, where possible. The building in question is the Beth Hamerdash Hagodol, at 60 Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side. The modified Gothic Revival–style structure was built in 1850 as a Baptist church and converted to a synagogue in 1885. Home to a Russian Jewish Orthodox congregation for more than a century but vacant since 2007, it was one of the first structures added to New York’s landmark list, in 1967. In May, the building was destroyed by a blaze that was later characterized as arson; it's missing its roof and most of the interior is filled with rubble. Given the extensive damage, the hearing focused on whether the building has enough integrity to remain an individual landmark, and if so, how its structure should be preserved. In testimony to the commission, Bryan Chester, an engineer from Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, detailed the shul's precarious structural integrity. The wooden roof trusses are "beyond repair," while the masonry bearing walls are unstable and severely deteriorated. Of the two towers that flanked the main (west) entrance, the northern one is in bad shape, but the south and east facades, though unstable, are in slightly better condition. The building had no fire insurance, and the extent of the damages put restoration out of the question—any materials above the window sills would probably be unsalvageable, Chester said. On the whole, those who testified before the commission advocated against demolition and for preservation in some form. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of preservation group Historic Districts Council, said the group "strenuously objects" to demolition, while noting that the owner's negligence over the years shouldn't be rewarded with a tear-down. The synagogue is on a prime lot on the Lower East Side, a district that by some measures is one of Manhattan's most gentrified. Speaking for Friends of the Lower East Side, a group that preserves the architectural and cultural heritage of the neighborhood, Joyce Mendelsohn said the group was in "total opposition" to demolition. Andrea Goldman of the New York Landmarks Conservancy agreed, noting that years before the fire, the preservation advocacy group had worked with the congregation to come up with an action plan for the building, which was in poor repair. (Right before the blaze, the synagogue had almost reached a deal with the Chinese American Planning Council, a nonprofit that owns two neighboring sites, to restore the building and erect affordable housing.) Considering the state of the structure, demolition seemed a done deal, but the LPC commissioners were hesitant to okay the applicant's request in light of the building's cultural significance. Scaffolding surrounds the ruins; right now, there's little danger the remaining structure could topple, but Chester said that in a few more months the situation could be more dangerous. So what could be salvaged, and how should the building's heritage honored? Landmarks hired engineers at Superstructures to independently evaluate the site. The firm concurred with the Zimmerman team that the south and east facades, though unstable, were repairable. The demolition team would deploy tall machines to take the synagogue apart from the top down, a process Chester likened to dinosaurs chomping on trees. But commissioners had questions: What if the crew destroys more of the remains than necessary? What if the building could be preserved and appreciated like Roman or Mayan ruins, or the Carmo Convent in Lisbon? "I'm unconvinced of the absolute necessity for demolition," said Commissioner Michael Devonshire, even when taking into account the building's unstable walls. Fellow Commissioner Frederick Bland added that the group needed to "see what's left and re-assess" after the structure has been stabilized. At the meeting, the commissioners decided to preserve, where feasible, the building's most important elements, but did not vote up/down on the owner's demolition bid. Instead, LPC general council Mark Silberman was asked to draft a resolution on the project that modified the owner's request. The resolution states that parts of the building need to be removed for safety reasons, especially around the north, south, and west facades, while retaining as much material as possible, with significant architectural features salvaged. The whole process will be overseen on-site by the LPC's engineers. It was approved yesterday afternoon. Edward Gunts contributed reporting.
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A new center for Jewish life in West Philly takes design cues from a menorah

When students return to class at one Philadelphia school this semester, they will have a new Hillel to call home.

The Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life at Drexel University, designed by San Francisco–based Natoma Architects, anchors Jewish life on campus. The firm, which came to the project with extensive experience designing spaces for Jewish life and memory, wanted to "create a continuing community of Jewish values through meeting, learning, ceremony and ritual."

To achieve this, the center's design invokes shape and spirit of a menorah, the ritual candelabra that symbolizes wisdom and the creation myth, among other things. (Those who celebrated Chanukah last week light a chanukiah, or nine-candle menorah.)

The four-level, three-story building features a worship space on top divided into three sections for Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox services, plus a library. A circular court, above, connects the three spaces and gives synagogue-goers a taste of sky, free from the clutter of other buildings. Below that, offices and flexible classrooms provide venues for meetings and discussion groups, while the first and most social ground floor is connected to the upstairs by a gracious staircase that doubles as stadium seating. The basement, a kitchen and storage space, rounds out the program.

Outside, handsome, complex brickwork references the weaving of tallit, Jewish prayer shawls, and Philadelphia's vernacular redbrick facades.

Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron praised the building in a recent review: "At a time when so many new buildings in our city have become relentlessly generic, it’s a pleasure to see one saturated with narrative and meaning." The structure, Saffron said, is intended to attract more Jews to Drexel, where about seven percent of students identify as Jewish.

Natoma Architects, founded by Stanley Saitowitz, has completed synagogues in two California cities that use the same menorah motif to different effect. At Beth Sholom Synagogue in San Francisco, above, Saitowitz invoked the menorah's traditional curves to craft a stone sanctuary on a plinth above the street. At La Jolla's Beth El Synagogue, concrete columns alternate with glass windows and open space to create the characteristic menorah shape. Saitowitz's clean detailing extends to the smallest Judaica, too. His firm has a stainless steel mezuzah for sale, as well as a threaded steel chanukiah. The $9.6-million Center for Jewish Life is one small component of the university's recent growth. Drexel is in the midst of a major expansion, part of a $3.5-billion project to spur development in neighborhoods on opposing sides of the Schuylkill River.
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ARO pays careful attention to symbolism, craft, security, and inclusivity in designing new Manhattan synagogue

“The Torah was the first building code,” said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), the prominent LGBTQ-welcoming synagogue. Stephen Cassell, principal at Architecture Research Office (ARO), quoted the rabbi, who was interpreting Deuteronomy 22:8, which set forth practically and ethically the need for parapets to keep people from falling off roofs. From simple safeguards to symbolic elements, ARO’s work for CBST integrates design details with values that Kleinbaum called “radically traditional.”

ARO remodeled the 1928 18-story Cass Gilbert building at 130 W. 30th Street, converting former furriers’ shops into CBST’s first permanent home after over 40 years in rented quarters. It was first in Chelsea’s Church of the Holy Apostles, then in a Westbeth loft. CBST members ceremonially marched last April 3 from the loft to the new site, where nine years of planning and design work have yielded a dignified space for Jews of every identity.

Preserving Gilbert’s Assyrian terra-cotta friezes, Cassell and colleagues wove a complex program into the 17,000-square-foot building. The sanctuary’s ner tamid (eternal light) is embedded into a column rising from the bimah (podium) and pews designed by London’s Luke Hughes are removable for social events. A structural-concrete rear wall supporting a panel of striated glass-fiber-reinforced concrete holds the Torah ark, and tilts back to admit a 46-foot-wide skylight—and enhancing sonic clarity and increasing perceptible area without exceeding allowable floor area. Chicago-based Threshold Acoustics optimized the space to accommodate both a highly musical congregation and the residences above it. Yahrzeit memorial candles are reinterpreted as individually controllable LEDs in a gray glass wall. Revising the traditional orientation of a bimah toward Jerusalem, this podium along the southern wall creates a wide 299-person space where no seat, even in the mezzanine, is more than 35 feet from the speaker.

Rabbi Kleinbaum’s brief, Cassell reported, specified that “everything had to be fabulous.” The 18-foot-high lobby declares CBST’s identity with lavender glazing and rainbow flags. “From day one of designing, we were designing for gay weddings; there was an assumption that they would be legalized; this took place in the middle of our working on the construction documents,” Cassell noted, adding, “We don’t want an outside hall to do that.” CBST’s Javits Center services on the High Holidays draw four-figure crowds.

The Torah ark is protected by a sliding panel of steam-bent oak staves and includes a custom-woven Bogotan tapestry and a laser-cut fabric whose 14th-century Spanish design recognizes Sephardim, the Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal after 1492. A chapel-library includes an additional ark incorporating 1920’s doors rescued from the Bronx’s Tremont Temple Gates of Mercy. Excerpts from secular and sacred literature proliferate. Though last month’s events in Orlando underscore the risks a diverse group faces in a society where the intolerant can be armed, CBST refuses to hide behind bollards or metal detectors. However, blast-resistant film coats the facade glass, protecting the lobby without shouting “security.”

Cassell found that congregants were closely attentive to the ways architectural features reflect priorities: “Everything was freighted with meaning, because this is the first time they’ve had a home of their own.” The question of whether pews rather than chairs are appropriate in a synagogue, he recalls, occupied “probably 25 meetings.... In some ways it is radically traditional; this aligns with [the question], what does it mean as a community to share a seat?” Classroom doorways include ADA-compliant mezuzot within reach of anyone in a wheelchair.

A nongendered restroom with eight full-height stalls that accommodate people of any identity with privacy and respect, illustrates CBST’s saga through a “history wall” of documents, including the Department of Buildings (DOB) variance allowing the restroom to bypass requirements for separate men’s and women’s rooms. “The rabbi wrote a phenomenally impassioned letter,” Cassell recalled, and DOB granted the variance. He wryly quoted its bureaucratic language about “‘the LGBT community, where conventional definition of gender is no longer sufficient.’ Hearing that coming from DOB is unheard of.”

Far from Chelsea, such a room itself might be unheard of. Still, Cassell notes, “it’s not rocket science.” Creating spaces appropriate to a population’s diversity, this building suggests, merely requires design sense fused with common sense and common decency.

Resources Lighting Designer Tillotson Design Associates Ark and Custom Furniture City Joinery

Memorial Wall and Ner Tamid Fabricator RUSHdesign

Ritual Items Design Mark Robbins Acoustics Threshold Acoustics
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Archtober Building of the Day #13> The Museum at Eldridge Street

Archtober Building of the Day #13 The Museum at Eldridge Street 12 Eldridge Street Archimuse The Columbus Day holiday and parade did not deter the Archtober faithful from attending a very special family event at the Museum at Eldridge Street. Archtober first visited the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue on on October 28, 2012 in the shadow of the looming Superstorm Sandy, to enjoy the fruits of a 20-year restoration project that culminated in the 2010 installation of the Kiki Smith rose window. Now, adding to the manifold riches to be found within is a fully realized Museum at Eldridge Street, the result of a collaboration of curators, historians, architects Archimuse, and graphic designers. Amy Stein Milford, the deputy director of the Museum at Eldridge Street, supplemented tour guides Reuben Jackson, Archimuse, and Los Angeles–based Kracauer in a recounting of the challenges of maintaining a tiny Orthodox congregation, who worship in the museum, and the imperatives of the interpretation of the Jewish immigrant experience. The Eldridge Street Synagogue, one of only two landmark synagogues in New York (the other is Central Synagogue on Lexington Avenue at 55th Street), was the first purpose-built synagogue in the city. Now surrounded by Chinatown, this city, state, and national landmark represents the epicenter of historic Jewish life on the Lower East Side, and hosts 40,000 visitors of all faiths annually, said Milford. Archimuse was challenged by five separate entrances to the structure that had to be rationalized on the street. Creating a coherent museum experience required that a maze of tiny spaces be opened up, exposing the original structure, and harmonizing the needs of a very contemporary exhibition with the needs of a small but dedicated congregation. The exhibition narrative starts with the map of the Great Jewish Migration, in the orientation experience. This map uses the traditional Jewish names from Eastern Europe to locate the sources of the two million Jews who left to freely practice their religion in the United States in the late 18th and early 20th centuries. The Journey is followed by “A New Home in a New Land,” a watercolor rendering of the facade of the synagogue executed in the early 20th century. The original deeds to the property and an original Star of David finial are on display. “Such a City!” has Yiddish and Hebrew signs from the synagogue and local businesses, including one for Singer sewing machines. “Becoming American Jews” is split between “Order and Orthodoxy” and “Women and Children.” “To the Brink and Back” recounts the further journeys of the community beyond the Lower East Side, and the subsequent rescue and restoration of the historic synagogue.
Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture and the festival director for Archtober:  Architecture and Design Month NYC.  She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell.  After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson,  held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater. ckracauer@aiany.org 
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Houses of Worship to Receive FEMA Grants

Stained glass window in Cathedral of St. John the Divine. (Courtesy of Loozrboy) Houses of Worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy were initially excluded from receiving federal aid based on the constitutional separation of church and state. But in an interesting turn of events, the House of Representatives has approved a bill that would provide grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to rebuild synagogues, mosques, and churches. The New York Times reported that FEMA has stipulated that, according to its rules and regulations, it can only allocate federal money to "repair and replace 'furnishings and equipment,'” which puts into question what items “are eligible.” It comes as no surprise that the American Civil Liberties Union and Congressman Jerrold Nadler oppose this legislation, calling it unconstitutional. (Photo: Loozrboy/Flickr)
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New York City’s First New Synagogue in Five Decades Opens in Manhattan

Congregation members of the Lincoln Square Synagogue stepped inside their new $50 million facility this weekend. It is the first new synagogue to be built from the ground up in New York City in five decades according to DNA Info. The four-story structure, designed by Cetra Ruddy, has a 450-seat sanctuary, a large ballroom in the basement level, classrooms, an in-house kosher catering company, and a prayer space. Senior Rabbi Shaul Robinson told DNA Info that the old synagogue “didn’t age well” and “was cramped and restrained.” There will be no dearth of space in this new 52,000-square-foot facility.