Congregation Beth Sholom Synagogue
San Francisco, CA, USA
Stanley Saitowitz / Natoma Architects Inc
Forell / Elsesser Engineers Inc. (Structural Engineer) Blasen Landscape Architecture (Landscape Architect) Shelter Design (Interior Design) Rumsey Engineers Inc. (Mechanical Engineer) Charles M Salter Associates Inc. (Acoustic Consultant) Overaa Construction (General Contractor)
Congregation Beth Sholom
Rien van Rijthoven Bruce Damonte
The entry sequence establishes the distinction of a sacred place through passage from the everyday world of the city, to the sacred world of the sanctuary. It is a circular journey of turning and rising and turning. The points of arrival are the courtyards. From these all the elements of the complex are accessed. The design for the sanctuary begins from the inside with the creation of a sacred room, a space in the round, focused on the central Bimah from where the services are conducted. The format of two facing tiers of seating is the shape of the earliest known synagogue at the fortress of Masada. A slice of sky in the ceiling turns into the eternal light above the Ark on the Eastern Wall. A shadow menorah is cast by beams supporting the roof, changing as the sun moves through the day, animating the wall. All light enters the room from above with views of the sky creating a sense of sanctity and remove in the midst of the noise and bustle of the city. The sky is a window to the sacred.
The site is at the intersection of Park Presidio and Clement Street. An early plan established a pair of religious structures as gateposts along this boulevard. One is the strong presence of the massive neo-classical Christian Science Church. The other is congregation Beth Sholom. All across the city large religious structures have iconic and memorable presences. They establish their power by imposing scale and language, and exceptional elements like domes and towers. Beth Sholom enters this realm of urban monuments with modest scale and means, through memorable form. A plinth is established. On the plinth two buildings are placed forming a courtyard. One is the masonry sanctuary, a vessel cradling the congregation, the other a reflective cube housing all other spaces of the congregation. The design revolves around two key concepts: a. The essential aspect of Conservative Judaism is that women and men participate equally in the liturgy. The Orthodox Jewish Tradition of women separated in a balcony or by a curtain is eliminated. The room is a vessel focusing all worshipers in a single community centered on the Bimah. b. The problem of creating sacred space in the midst of the city. In nature one can sense the power of creation; in the city one is focused on the works of man. Only the view of the sky presents original nature. The only window in the synagogue is a slice of sky in the ceiling, which turns into the eternal light above the Ark on the Eastern Wall. All light enters the room from above creating a sense of sanctity and remove in the midst of the noise and bustle of the city. A shadow menorah animates the wall.
The sanctuary form engages gravity as an ally; entering at the lowest point, the room fills like a cup, maintaining an intimate fullness even when not packed. Its walls are people. The roof floats over this cup and is connected with light. The ceiling is sliced by the sky. By day, the beams supporting the roof create a shadow menorah on the walls. By night the room is lit with stars of light. The essential aspect of Conservative Judaism is that women and men participate equally in the liturgy. The Orthodox Jewish Tradition of women separated in a balcony or by a curtain is eliminated. The room is a vessel focussing worshipers in a single community centered on the Bimah. The expression of this interior is the exterior of the building. The exterior also remembers the Western Wall in Jerusalem, using the color and form of the stones of the ancient temple. The second building, sheathed in zinc, contains the social hall, which opens to the court, daily chapel, meditation space, library, offices and meeting rooms. It marks the corner with a thin tower like slice. This building, in contrast to the masonry sanctuary, is radiant and light. The existing school is embraced in the complex with an amphitheater/stair from the courtyard. This campus is the focus of Congregation Beth Sholom, a place where people connect as a community.