B'nai Israel Synagogue
2006-2008, built
Rochester, Minnesota

With Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, Minneapolis
Joan Soranno, FAIA, lead designer
John Cook, FAIA, and Matthew Kreilich, AIA, project team
Project Architect: Physical and digital modeling, Materials research, Luminous wall design and detailing, Liturgical furnishings design, Ark design; Design Development documentation, Construction Documents, Construction administration

A composition of nested boxes, spaces throughout the building are enriched with strategic views of the surrounding neighborhood and carefully modulated natural light, culminating in a dramatic translucent screen wall at the sanctuary’s East wall. A terraced garden near the entry harkens to the sacred archetype of the garden in Jewish symbolism while providing a public place to strategically manifest an otherwise cloistered program.
In the sanctuary, a broad house plan parti places worshipers close to the activity of the bimah and further emphasizes the prominence of the East-facing Ark wall. A rooftop light monitor permits daylight to wash the East wall, and a layered screen of translucent acrylic panels mediates between the brilliantly-lit sacred space behind the screen (and housing the sacred texts of the torah) and the more profane space of the sanctuary proper. Taking inspiration from the incompleteness of Hebrew Script as written in the Torah, the panels of the Ark wall are arranged in a pattern that reflects multiple interpretations. The ark itself is clad in translucent onyx laser-cut into an abstract pattern of shapes derived from the letters that signify the Ten Commandments.

Honor Award for Architecture, AIA Minnesota, 2008
AIA/IFRAA Honor Award, 2009
The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design Honor Award, 2009

Photos © Michael Moran; model photograph by Author