A Matter of Faith
At the U.S. Naval Academy, a Jewish chapel by Boggs & Partners shines with a heavenly light
Laura Fisher Kaiser -- Interior Design, 7/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
In 1834, the U.S. Navy's first Jewish commodore bought Thomas Jefferson's Virginia home, Monticello, and saved it from ruin. Acknowledging that contribution to American history, Boggs & Partners Architects designed the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, as a handsomely neoclassical building. But its conventional facade utterly belies the soul-stirring beauty of the synagogue within.
Beyond the domed entry, a shaft of sun shoots down from the atrium lobby's skylight. The lobby, in turn, leads to the chapel, the first at Annapolis specifically intended for Jewish worship. (Any house of worship is a "chapel" in Navy parlance.) An 85-foot-long room bathed in a silvery diffused luminosity, the space feels like a portal to the infinite. This effect is due largely to the way that design principal Joseph Boggs deployed scrims made of white- painted woven stainless-steel wire. Running along both sides of the chapel, in front of the windows, two levels of scrims arc upward toward the aluminum-leafed 47-foot ceiling.
Given that the 35,000-square-foot center also houses a moral-development program for mid- shipmen, Boggs intentionally ignored the tradition of clunky mid-century synagogue architecture and focused instead on ensuring that a person of any denomination would feel embraced. "The scrims deconstruct the building and lift your spirit up," he says. "The only thing grounding you is the stone beneath your feet."
That stone, he points out, is "the real stuff, from Jerusalem"—also used for the wall behind the anigre ark, where the sacred Torah is stored. Inspired by the Temple Mount's Western Wall, Boggs used a water-pressure saw, a chisel, and hydraulic acid to give each stone a unique rustication. A niche in the center of the wall is tiled in an abstract double-helix pattern. "Energy comes from the ark and works its way out, like waves," Boggs explains. "It quiets the mind." And soothes the soul.