Building on Our Sacred Inheritance – The Design of Emanu-El Next
Joel Roos, Vice President of the Board of Directors for Congregation Emanu-El, helps to oversee the real estate development of Emanu-El Next. “It’s been a labor of love for so many people in our community,” Joel says. “Emanu-El Next is the community’s project.”
He grew up in Honesdale Pennsylvania, a little town outside of Scranton, PA, “where you’ll find what once was referred to as the smallest synagogue in the country.” It was founded in the same year as Emanu-El by his Bavarian Jewish ancestors. “Temple Beth Israel,” he says. “It’s a beautiful building about 40 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 30 feet tall, near perfect proportionally, with simple pressed tin off-white walls and ceiling and a beautiful Tiffany chandelier at the center. The bima is like ours at Emanu-El with the clergy nearly at the level of our parishioners. I was taken by that synagogue. It helped formulate my reference point for what I call a harmonious sanctuary space.”
A Partner with Pacific Union Development Company, Joel feels, “creating building product is incredibly satisfying – it’s tangible.” He believes that the success of great buildings and a goal of some of the great world architects is to create harmony in their designs. “When something’s out of sync – when the proportions are wrong or the details are fussy – the space distracts,” he remarks. “When you walk into the powerful-volume space of the Main Sanctuary of Emanu-El, with its plane stucco walls and arched openings, you don’t always realize why it feels so comfortable and so good. It’s subliminal. But you always know when a space feels bad!”
Reflecting on his hometown temple, beside the grand proportions of Emanu-El’s Main Sanctuary, Joel sees both as “timeless,” he says. “It must have felt right in the year 1926 and it still feels so great in 2021. I think Mark Cavagnero,” the lead architect of Emanu-El Next, “will bring design sensibility to the courtyard and Temple House that doesn’t compete with the simplicity, beauty and importance of the Main Sanctuary. We all want the new spaces that Cavagnero is creating to be considered timeless in a hundred years.”
Emanu-El Next preserves the historic integrity of the perimeter walls and roof lines on Lake and Arguello by dropping a new building within the old one. “The courtyard,” Joel adds, “which is so much a part of the Temple’s signature, will have program space above that looks upon the interior court. And those spaces surrounding the center, at the courtyard level and above, will be able to open up to air. The courtyard will become part of the main floor, providing easier indoor and outdoor flow for large crowds. So, when we all gather outside on the high holidays,” he says, “we will be able to gather with our members and friends just as we have done for nearly 100 years.”
The redesigned courtyard will provide, “seamless, modern security so you don’t even notice that you’re passing through certain gates and levels of safety. It also realigns the original entry point on Lake Street, restoring the procession to the Main Sanctuary, and making the Lake Street entrance more accessible to everyone.” And to top it all, the architects designed the building surrounding the atrium space with large operable glass doors to make the courtyard a more usable event space.
Chair of both Emanu-El’s Master Planning and Financial Oversight Committees, Joel and the Emanu-El team are working with Equity Community Builders to develop the project. He’s seen Emanu-El Next evolve from its origins as a seismic retrofit – a response to a structural analysis conducted over five years ago – into what it is today.
As we started to explore a Master Planning process to upgrade and modernize our buildings – focusing on the Atrium Building – we found that the facility was not as seismically sound as we would like. “There was no code requirement to take any action. But we felt it was prudent to implement some interim safety measures at the time. So, when you walk into the courtyard today, you’ll see what appear to be plywood columns. And within those are additional steel elements that, along with temporary shoring and catchments, make the courtyard building much safer.”
With these interim seismic safety improvements, planning continued. The structural analysis forced Emanu-El’s leadership to re-envision the needs and priorities of the community on a much larger scale. “Why would we only improve one building with an expensive fix and little impact on square footage and functionality?” A choice had to be made. “The team realized that if we were going to retrofit the courtyard, we ought to make the whole building work for us programmatically for the next 100 years.”
Thus, Emanu-El Next adjusted the scope to meet both long- and short-term needs. The synagogue has long been more than a house of worship – it’s a place where people come together to learn, teach our children and teens, celebrate simchas – so the project grew to meet the existing needs of our community, and anticipate our future needs.
As seen in the cross sections (below), Emanu-El Next includes a reclaimed entrance on Lake Street and an expanded basement.
Design of Emanu-El (Before Emanu-El Next Renovation)
Design of Emanu-El (After Emanu-El Next Renovation)
“Many projects in the city have made a decision to expand their subterranean real estate because land is incredibly precious,” Joel gleans from his experience as a developer. “In the original design there’s an unusable basement space. These are the areas with seismic vulnerability.” Through excavation and construction, Emanu-El Next will strengthen the structural integrity beneath the courtyard while creating a member engagement space with offices and a mechanical floor below. “That’s where we’ve expanded much of the program.” Joel points out.
The original staircase on Lake Street ends at the edge of the sidewalk. The new design provides greater accessibility and easier flow for large events by allowing congregants to enter the building at a vestibule – coming in at level area before reaching the elevator and stairs.
Upgrading the temple’s mechanical systems, “is really about creating a sustainable Emanu-El for the future,” Joel deduces. “We have a goal of making it carbon neutral. We’re looking at water usage, energy usage, lighting, good pure air exchange, and hardwiring modern technology into the design.” But for all the changes, “humans are hardwired to be together,” he concludes. “And we were given an incredible gift by 200 families who created the synagogue campus back in 1926. This is our opportunity to help maintain and sustain the almost 100-year-old building and to be a part of making it even better.”
Joel confesses that Emanu-El Next is the most moving project he’s been involved with in his career – and he understands the weight on the entire Emanu-El team of getting this project right. “This really is it!” Joel laughs, “Emanu-El is home to me. And I think the new design will make it an even more remarkable sanctuary and campus for our community to come together.”
To participate, please contact Julie Weinberg, Director of Development, at: [email protected] or 415 750 7557.
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This article appeared in the November edition of The Emanu-El Chronicle.