A Sense of the Sacred
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 12/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Amid the fashionable bustle of Rio de Janeiro's upscale Leblon neighborhood, a tiny building has a big message to share. Isay Weinfeld's Midrash Cultural Center for the Jewish Congregation of Brazil—designed to explore Judaism's intellectual side—is devoted to debate, discussion, and the teaching of traditions in art, literature, history, politics, psychology, and the like. The facade announces itself subtly and seductively via Hebrew letters cast in fiberglass in various sizes and shades of white and suspended, overlapping, in front of the gray-painted brick.
The four-story building, just 40 feet wide, packs a lot of function into 4,250 square feet. On the ground level, a sleekly appointed reception area overlooks a patio walled in by sliding glass doors; there's also a bookshop and a catering kitchen and bar. The prayer chamber is on the second story, an auditorium on the third. The fourth contains offices, a meeting room, and a pair of classrooms that can be joined for larger groups. More classes can be held alfresco on a roof terrace.
Materials throughout are modest: ipe wood, a few moments of limestone and marble. The real star is the facade, visible inside through the windows. As it screens views of the sunny outside world, the abstract jumble of letters spells out Midrash, meaning to draw sense.