To celebrate the Sabbath
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 6/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
As a child, what struck Alfred Jacoby most about synagogues was their smallness. The one in his native Offenbach, near Frankfurt, was a "tiny place" with 80 seats, he says. "Back then, I didn't realize that a huge synagogue across the street had been desecrated and converted into a propaganda cinema during World War II."
The son of Polish holocaust survivors, Jacoby is widely considered to be Germany's leading synagogue architect. Since his first, built in Darmstadt in 1988, Architekturbüro Prof. Alfred Jacoby has completed others in Cologne, Heidelberg, Aachen, and Chemnitz. With each, Jacoby says, his goal was to "bring back into the public realm" buildings that had quasi-disappeared—for decades after the war, many Jews worshipped in anonymous offices and town houses. "Jews in Germany didn't want to draw attention to their community," he explains. "But I think it's important to reverse that idea of hiding." He certainly achieved his aim at the Neue Synagoge in Kassel.
Jacoby's abundant use of cedar was inspired by the Old Testament story about King Hiram of Tyre, who provided Solomon with cedar logs to construct a temple. For the synagogue's external cladding, Jacoby waterproofed the wood. Inside the 10,800-square-foot building, he chose cedar for important sacred elements. The cedar bimah's exquisite folded form is perfectly adapted to Jewish religious ceremonies, which involve reading from two Torah scrolls. The front of the bimah supports the scroll being read, while the back forms a seat for the congregation member holding the second scroll.
Because the tightness of the site greatly reduced possible window locations—three sides of the building stand slap bang on the property line—Jacoby exercised his inventiveness with a light well and skylights. For the curved roof of the main space, he collaborated with fine-art professor Johannes Schreiter to design a 50-foot-long glass strip that graduates from dark blue at the lowest point to pale blue at the highest.
Schreiter also worked on the ark that holds the Torah scrolls. The ark's 21-foot-high doors are stained glass, and several of the glass panels are marked by a piece of lead, giving the impression of a crack. Some observers see this as a reference to Kristallnacht, when the Nazis destroyed more than 2,000 Jewish houses of worship. For Jacoby, the lead is more a symbol of the inherent imperfection of life, and the synagogue as a whole is part of a long-term healing process: "The space is for anyone, a haven of calm where people can withdraw and meditate."