From its beginnings in 1964 in an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Lincoln Square Synagogue (LSS) has grown into an institution that has become a model for Modern Orthodox Judaism. The Synagogue moved to 200 Amsterdam Avenue in 1970 and has developed into a diverse and vibrant congregation that provides religious, social, educational services, and outreach to the unique Jewish community of the Upper West Side of New York. Due to programmatic needs and a favorable opportunity to move just down the street, the synagogue made the decision to embark upon developing a new facility for its congregation.
The goal of this project was to create a new building to accommodate the community's expanding congregation by increasing the sanctuary size to hold 442 occupants and by providing educational spaces for the growing families in the community. The foremost prerequisite of the congregation was a larger sanctuary space which would enable them to continue to pray “in the round”, emphasizing their sense of place and unification as a Jewish community.
Programmatically the congregation also required a 170 person daily prayer -Beit Midrash space, classrooms, administrative offices, informal gathering spaces, outdoor space and a multifunctional ballroom. All spaces were required to be flexible to enable different uses during the course of the day and week. The building circulation was most important in the process of developing the sequence of spaces – the idea of the "journey", or pathways through the building, became integral to how the building would function daily and on the Sabbath. The progression of public spaces to more private spaces and the continuity of spaces from the exterior to interior were major influences to the design. This was accomplished by clarifying program adjacencies both in plan and section.
CetraRuddy began the design process with no preconceived design aesthetic and by researching the history of Judaic centers of worship. A crucial aspect of the design approach was to develop an understanding of the congregation’s identity. Their community identity and approach to manifesting their Hebraic consciousness in their daily lives were precepts that guided the project. The design creates sacred spaces that integrate this consciousness into the architecture, while crafting a unique building for this congregation.
Jewish symbolic references and inspirational imagery have played a powerful role in the design dialogue. The symbols integrated into the design solution reflect: the Torah; the nomadic tabernacle-tent structure; the Tallis, or prayer shawl; and the movement or "dance" during celebrations.
In Judaism, the Torah is the “core” structure to the spiritual, educational, and social values. The symbolic significance of its spiral form is the infinite and continual study of its messages. In design, the exterior and interior expression of the building centers on the symbolic perception that the five books of the Torah provide the essence for the architectural form. The east façade with its five undulating glass “scrolls” tie together the Sanctuary, the Beit Midrash and the classroom spaces. The expression of the scrolls are not only manifested on the exterior but are perceived on the interior, as well through the main lobby’s glass wall, the sanctuary, and the main curved stairwell.
The sanctuary space does not use any electric sound amplifiers during prayer hours due to religious requirements; thus, the space configuration utilizes the geometry of the walls to naturally amplify and project the sound throughout the space. The undulating angled walls enhance the acoustics while referencing the nomadic tabernacle – a historic structure of Judaic prayer that was recognized as the dwelling place of God and home to the Ark of the Covenant. In designing the sanctuary, 613 lights were installed to reference the 613 mitzvahs as well as the clear desert sky that the nomadic tabernacle was often positioned underneath.
The materials selected for the project speak both to the history of Judaism and its future.
The symbolic materials selected in the design include:
1- Glass with Fabric – custom exterior and interior glass walls reference the Torah scroll through its form and textural qualities.
2- Stone- The stone solidity of the north façade and the “ends” of the east facade convey the protective covering for the Torah and the tabernacle within. The patterns within the stone reference the “stripes” found on the prayer shawls. Additionally, the rustication of the main stone lobby wall is reminiscent of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
3+4- Cedar of Lebanon and Bronze - Biblical wood species and metal used throughout the interior speak to both the history of Judaism and its future. Cedars of Lebanon veneers were utilized for the main entrance doors, the sanctuary pews, the main lobby paneling, and Beit Midrash/daily prayer library space. The building's bronze entrance, burnished bronze handrails, and muntz/bronze metal accents are used throughout the building.
5-Ash wood veneer – European bleached and stained ash veneer was utilized to reinforce lightness and highlight vertical texture of the surrounding angled walls in the sanctuary.
The resultant design is a unique structure and architectural expression reflective of the community. The project is LEED certified.
CetraRuddy is an international award-winning architecture, planning and interior design firm based in New York City. For over 29 years, the firm has been led with a guiding principle that architecture and design must engage its context while enriching the human spirit. The firm’s portfolio of distinguished work, defined by analytic problem solving, contextual sensitivity, crafted details and innovative use of materials, reflect an underlying commitment to the human experience at all scales and across typologies including multifamily housing, hospitality, education, cultural and commercial. Founded by Principals John Cetra and Nancy J. Ruddy, the firm emphasizes a collaborative process, working together with clients and staff to apply a sophisticated understanding of programming, planning, technology and construction to each project, developing technically excellent and innovative designs and providing an unparalleled level of service.
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