Saturday, March 21, 2009

nature and city in synagogue

Alfred Jacoby, one of the most famous Jewish architects in Germany, has designed his first synagogue in the United States and it was dedicated in Park City, Utah in the summer of 2008. Temple Har Shalom, meaning Mountain of Peace in Hebrew, was designed to coexist with nature in the midst of this high mountain desert. With the Jewish community in Utah being different from the congregations in Germany, "Instead of a discourse with history, in Park City Jacoby's discourse was with nature." The synagogue has clean, simple lines and sanctuaries full of natural light. The ceiling undulates, suggestive of the mountains on the other side of the stained glass windows. (source) "The floor-to-ceiling windows reveal beautiful vistas on two floors, which include a conference room and classrooms that will be available to the community." (source)

While Temple Har Shalom has a site ‘in nature’ on the periphery of Park City, the synagogues in Germany are more integrated with city life. German synagogues, in cities such as Aachen and Heidelberg, are noticeable and inviting, with large entrances "to invite you in, as a gesture," Jacoby said. (source)

It hasn't always been this way though. "In the years following the Holocaust, Jewish communities in Germany — made up of displaced Jews from other countries, since the German Jewish population had been decimated — began building synagogues to replace the ones destroyed by the Nazis. These new synagogues often were hidden away and were generally so nondescript they looked like cafeterias, says Jacoby...The idea, even three or four decades after the end of World War II, was to try not to be noticed. But in 1986, when Jacoby won an architectural competition to design a new synagogue in Darmstadt, he tried a different approach: ‘to show that Jews can be part of a city.’" (source)

In 2000, there was a wave of neofascist vandalism sweeping through Germany. "But the possibility of vandalism hasn't stopped him from designing synagogues that make their presence known. ‘I want them to be part of the urban fabric,’ he said, ‘to heal with architecture.’" (source) Being open and inviting to the community in a synagogue in Kassel included placing the sacred Torah scrolls inside of a glass box that could be seen by anyone walking or driving past the building.

"Ultimately, what this institution is about is relationships. Whether it's your relationship with God or a spiritual relationship or relationship with another human being, it's about relationships, enhancing relationships, and making the lives of Utahns better." (source)

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