New Synagogue by Alfred Jacoby dedicated in Park City, Utah
By Samuel D. Gruber
ISJM, July 11, 2008
[n.b. the following is based on many sources, but NOT a personal visit to the new synagogue. Friends have described it and shown me pictures, I hope to visit when the opportunity arises]
German-Jewish Architect Alfred Jacoby has built his first synagogue in the United States, an elegant structure in the ski-resort town of Park City, Utah, home of the U.S. Ski team and the Sundance Film Festival. Temple Har Shalom was dedicated on June 27, 2008. Jacoby is the most prominent post-war synagogue architect in Germany. He achieved notice in America in 2002 at the time of a traveling exhibition of his work, which included a stop at the University of Utah. In the past two decades has designed synagogues in Darmstadt (1988), Heidelberg (1994), Aachen (1996), Offenbach (1998), Kassel (2000), and Chemnitz (2002).
Jacoby, a professor and director at the Dessau Institute of Architecture, has a reputation as a synagogue designer in Germany today similar to Percival Goodman's in America in the 1950s to 1970s – he's the go-to guy for new community-based synagogues (as opposed to the more politically-motivated monumental "show" synagogues, like those in Dresden and Munich. Jacoby's designs are always interesting and sometimes innovative, but they are also always easy to understand and mostly comfortable to use. He is known as a synagogue architect with whom community's can work. Jacoby's buildings are known for their use of contemporary architectural forms and materials, but unlike Goodman, until now his designs are in adherence to traditional Orthodox spatial and liturgical requirements. But though Jacoby creates synagogues that are nominally Orthodox, most congregants are Russian-Jewish immigrants not well trained in traditional Judaism, let alone the rudiments of Orthodox worship. His buildings, therefore, support a comfortable Orthodoxy that emphasizes community building as much as punctilious prayer. While Temple Har Shalom is his first design for a Reform congregation, his aesthetic is easily adapted in this new situation.
Temple Har Shalom invited a large number of distinguished and up-and-coming architects to submit RFP's for the synagogue project, and after review chose Jacoby over several more unconventional architects. Jacoby's designs in general, and at Park City, tend to be accessible, elegant and non-confrontational. They combine some of the best (and most tranquil) qualities of rationalism and simple geometry (Jacoby studied with Aldo Rossi in Zurich in the 1970s), with an expressive use of light that derives in large part from American modern synagogues designed by Eric Mendelsohn and Percival Goodman during the post-War period. Jacoby likes to mix up materials, and is especially fond of dark wood veneers, white walls and occasionally limestone accents. At Temple Har Shalom, as in Jacoby's recent work in Kassel and Chemnitz, there is an abundance of wood, recalling perhaps, some of the work of Alvar Aalto and synagogues of Pietro Belluschi. The compex also has a vestibule/common room with a fireplace set in a brick wall, perhaps a nod to a ski lodge aesthetic.
In many of his previous synagogues Jacoby has shown a penchant for circular or elliptical forms (Aachen, Heidelberg, Chemnitz), something he avoids at Park City, where the sanctuary has a more traditional rectangular plan, and can be expanded. Until now, Jacoby's best previous designs have mostly been for city synagogues – where they often help to heal the urban form, carefully weaving the new architectural forms, spaces and processionals into older urban fabric. At Park City he works to integrate the building to the striking landscape. Following popular trends in American synagogue design (which go back to the 1960s), Jacoby opens up the building to the landscape with large floor-to-ceiling windows which reveal big vistas from two floors. The sanctuary, however, remains a more sheltered space, its large east wall windows filled with stained glass designed by Jun Kaneko of Omaha, Nebraska. Overhead, a wood ceiling, something like a stretched out sine wave, undulates upward to its high point above the Ark (this is almost the reverse arrangement used by Mendelsohn at B'nai Amoona in St. Louis). Jacoby likens the ceiling profile to that of the nearby mountains. More than any element it energizes the space.
Not everything about Temple Har Shalom is new. The congregation owns a Torah scroll, now restored and made kosher, that was once in Zamosc, Poland, and managed to survive the Holocaust. Coincidentally, the 17th-century synagogue in Zamosc also survived, and after years of use as a library, is now receiving the restoration it deserves (more on that important building and project anther time).
"Jewish synagogue to be dedicated in Park City tonight"
June 27th, 2008 (with photos)
Temple Har Shalom website
On Alfred Jacoby see: In Einem Neuen Geiste / In a New Spirit: The Synagogues of Alfred Jacoby (Frankfurt am Main: Deutsches Architektur Museum – Aktuelle Galarie, 2002).