FIELD Architecture - Kol Emeth, a synagogue fostering a new connection to nature as a source of spiritual well-being
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Kol Emeth, a synagogue fostering a new connection to nature as a source of spiritual well-being

FIELD Architecture

Public Space  /  Completed
FIELD Architecture

At the core of our design challenge was to develop a structure that transcended the often rigid notions of what a synagogue building is and should be, and replace those with a flexible environment comprised of indoor and outdoor spaces that could be used in singularity or in conjunction with one another. We wanted our work to both acknowledge tradition and inspire a brand-new connection to the natural world as a source of spiritual well-being.
The design focuses on what can be held sacred, and the mix of technology and a powerful sense of materiality as well as a marked emphasis on light and openness that produces an architecturally forward-thinking embodiment of centuries of tradition.

The footprint of the building was optimized to house parking underneath the above grade developed surfaces, maximizing retention of native soil without removing a single tree. This also allowed elimination of heat island effect and contaminated surface runoff. Surface water shed is biofiltered, and collected for an eco-balanced native garden and soil mix that restores the natural ecology of the region and attracts pollinators, and songbirds. A street facing promenade garden traverses the length of the building’s primary façade which is open to the public. The garden places a working natural system along the entire length of the primary facade, which functions as an integral outer-layer of the building.

Kol Emeth is the world’s first LEED Platinum synagogue to achieve both Net Zero Energy and Net Zero Water for irrigation, and has received numerous design awards including multiple AIA awards. The comprehensive approach to sustainability employs strategic off-site fabrication to minimize on-site impacts. Resource use is offset with PVs and a complete water reuse/retention strategy. Biofiltration and native gardens sequester carbon. Recycled steel, fly ash concrete, advanced framing, and OSB SIPs use recycled content and hyper-insulation and constitute the primary structural materials. Orientation of structures and apertures are optimized for daylighting. Interior hemp ceiling panels are hung to modulate daylight and create dappled light that expands awareness of the movement of the sun.

The building objective was to use architecture to articulate the identity of the congregation, and respect for the land on which it rests. With limited area and deeply restrictive site constraints, height limit, and neighborhood requirements, we focused on flexibility as an overarching organizational principle. The three main defined spaces—the sanctuary, outdoor courtyard, and social hall—are connected by twelve pillars that support a concave overhead canopy, a visual reference to the traditional Jewish chuppah. Throughout the project, we emphasized light, framing views of nature, and the use of advanced technologies to produce a sophisticated yet simple timber lattice constructed from 2,200 cast-off timber shorts diverted from landfill. Its shape inspired by the traditional prayer shawl, the lattice wraps the exterior and mitigates the low western sun.
The volumes of the buildings are organized to allow for maximal flexibility within and between the structures. Skylights, clerestories, and full-length sliding glass partition, create an environment which includes the outdoors in indoor functions, and connects every space to the surrounding environment. The design of Kol Emeth synagogue creates the interweave between melding light and structure, giving form to a spiritual experience through architecture.

Since Kol Emeth’s completion, the congregation has increased its programming and has seen an increase in membership. The design was posed with an unprecedented challenge of the global pandemic, which changed social engagement patterns within days of opening. With flexibility, contiguous indoor-outdoor programming and cross-functionality at the core of its design, the building use was adjusted and a new modus operandi developed that provided a lasting sense of connection when it was needed most.


 Palo Alto
 California, USA
 Congregation Kol Emeth
 Religious Building
 1687 mq
 Field Architecture
 Stan Field, Jess Field, Jeffrey Pilotte, Brian Washburn
 Smith-Hyder Construction
 AOR - EID Architects; Landscape - GLS Arch; Civil Engineer - Lea & Braze Engineering, Inc.; Structural - Mars Structural Design; MEP - FARD Engineers; Lighting - Loisos + Ubbelohde; Acoustics - Charles M. Salter Associates, Inc.; LEED Commissioning - Green Building Services
 Joe Fletcher


FIELD Architecture is a full service, design forward practice focused on creating architecture that belongs to the land and fosters connection between individuals and the places they love. Our designs are born from a thoughtful dialogue infused with optimism, sensitivity, and a profound sense of stewardship. We foster a close relationship with our clients, work with the land, and develop responses deeply rooted in their environment.
Led by father-and-son team Stan and Jess Field, our interest in place-making spans generations and countries. Stan was taught by Louis Kahn; Jess was born in South Africa and grew up sketching and drafting from an early age. Our studio is comprised of talented individuals working collaboratively to realize the vision for each project. We bring together experience and expertise, artistry and exacting detail. Our exchanges are constant, considered, optimistic, rigorous, sensitive, and full of wonder: all qualities with which we infuse FIELD’s work.


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