Historically, Jewish immigrants to the United States have come from areas where they were oppressed by a government, a religion, a national people. In general, Jews were not usually considered full citizens of their homelands; they were banned from owning land in many countries; they could not hold certain types of jobs or live in certain areas; they were usually poor; and they suffered physical persecution and death--pogroms, the Inquisition, the Holocaust. And, historically, synagogue architecture was influenced by these conditions. Synagogues tried not to be flamboyant on the outside. They usually wanted to go unnoticed. Some were built like fortresses, as protection from a sea of enemies. Others were built more like temporary structures--the tents of a wandering tribe--because Jews had no permanency. Most were structures built by the poor with materials at hand. All, however, were “the archtypical Jewish space in [...a] locale, the central ‘place’ associated with Jews. [...In] Diaspora settings, it is the clearest indication that a Jewish community is a component of the local society.” (Lee Shai Weissbach, “Buildings Fraught with Meaning: An Introduction to a Special Issue on Synagogue Architecture in Context”, Jewish History, Vol. 25, 2011, p. 9)
|Four Eastern European, shtetl synagogues (L to R from UL): a) surviving wooden synagogue in Kurkliai, Poland; b) the Viski Synagogue (Belarus)--only the foundation remains today; c) the Jedwabne (Poland) Synagogue--destroyed in 1913; d) the remains of the Great Drohobycz Synagogue (Ukraine)--where some of my ancestors lived. (a) and d) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wooden_synagogues_of_the_former_Polish–Lithuanian_Commonwealth; b) http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/viski/; c) http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/image/76808/)|
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
In many ways the situation in the United States was different. There was still discrimination, but Jewish congregations built their synagogues to reflect their communities and their new freedoms in a new land.
Historically, there was “...no mandated Jewish religious architecture and, with the exception of a few required elements for every synagogue (Ark, bimah), there are few constants found in any type of architecture founded, created, or used by Jews.” (Samuel Gruber, “Jewish Identity and Modern Synagogue Architecture” in Jewish Identity in Contemporary Architecture, edited by Angeli Sachs and Edward van Voolen, Prestel, Munich, Berlin, London, New York, reprinted by Syracuse University, Selected Works of Samuel D. Gruber Dr., 2004, p. 22) In the United States many architectural styles were used for synagogues prior to World War II--a Moorish-Byzantine-Revival style, Classical-Beaux Arts-architecture, and Art-Deco. “...American synagogues attempted to express through their designs and derivative architectural styles the idea that Judaism was an ancient and integral part of Western Civilization. Their fluted columns, classical domes and impressive porticos suggested that the Jewish heritage was based on lofty, noble ideas that contributed to the strength and stability of society.” (Lance J. Sussman, “The Suburbanization of American Judaism as Reflected in Synagogue Building and Architecture, 1945-1975", American Jewish History, Vol. 75, No. 1, September 1985, p. 32) World War II and the Holocaust, however, “...accelerated the acceptance of modern design. In the postwar period, the sincerity of all historical norms and forms was in doubt.” (Gruber, p. 26)
The ramifications of the Holocaust and the subsequent suburbanization of the Jewish population after the end of World War II brought many changes to synagogue architecture and decoration in the United States. The post-World War II period brought about a new, modernist religious architecture which included new architectural forms for synagogues, the use of non-representational art as integral parts of some of this architecture, and new theories of organizing the architecture around community needs. “One of the earliest planning ideas for this new architecture was put forward by architect Ben Bloch in 1944. Bloch proposed a flexible synagogue plan with a sanctuary and a social hall joined by movable partitions that could accommodate an overflow of attendees. In 1945, the Interdenominational Bureau of Architecture published Planning of Churches, which advocated for entering the nave or prayer hall from an interior common lobby as opposed to a monumental street entrance, so the worship space could be integrated into the congregation’s community life. Similar proposals were made the following year by the Reform Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Conservative United Synagogue of America. The structure and plan of the synagogues of the late 1940s and early 1950s also placed changing gender relations in architectural terms by eliminating the traditional two-tier seating arrangement that divided men from women.” (http://www.docomomo-us.org/register/fiche/congregation_habonim)
This culminated in the building of over a thousand synagogues in the United States in the post-War period, and this was paralleled in the Christian community in the United States and Europe. In the Catholic and Protestant communities, mainly in Europe, but also in the United States, the German Bauhaus and liturgical architects such as Rudolf Schwarz (Rudolf Schwarz, Vom Bau der Kirche (1938), published in the United States as The Church Incarnate: The Sacred Function of Architecture, translated by Cynthia Harris, Henry Regnery & Co., Chicago, 1958), Otto Bartning and Dominikus Boehm, and their contemporaries, brought a new look to Catholic and Protestant churches before and after World War II. Percival and Paul Goodman commented on the similarity between the Jewish and Christian movements. “Between the Liturgical Movement and this new building of synagogues there is an important similarity and there are important differences. The similarity is that the emotional and practical side of worship, the ritual, iconography, plastic design, and construction are brought to the fore. The differences are, first, that among the Jews there is no strong tradition, one might almost say no living tradition at all, of synagogue design and decoration--therefore serious artists must begin de novo to find a plastic interpretation for the tradition that does exist, namely the tradition of the congregation and the service. “ (Percival and Paul Goodman, “Modern Artist as Synagogue Builder”, Commentary, Vol. 7, No. 1, January 1949, p. 53)
|(top) Rudolf Schwarz’ Maria Königin (Saarbrücken, designed c.1954; Photo by AnRo0002; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20110603Maria_Koenigin_Saarbruecken2.jpg); (bottom) The Mother Cabrini Shrine in the Inwood section of Manhattan was designed by American architects Caesar DeSina and Vincent Pellegrino in c.1956. One architectural historian wrote about the parabolic design of the Cabrini chapel: “The parti of the chapel is what Rudolph Schwarz (the first to draw such a plan) called a “dark chalice,” a parabolic plan with the sanctuary ; in the apex. [...The plan] was a response to the problem of material focal objects in Christian churches. The continuous surface which extends, theoretically, ad infinitum, is an abstraction of the ancient symbol of the apse taken to its formal extreme. [...The] gold(-ish) field of the mosaic furthers the continuity with early Christian apse symbolism... .” (http://locusiste.org/blog/2012/10/churchcrawling-in-new-york-city/; Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)|
Into this postwar period in the United States came two Jewish architects who helped transform synagogue architecture: Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953) and Percival Goodman (1904-1989) were key creative forces in providing a positive and ultimately optimistic connection between the destruction of the Holocaust and the aspiration of Jewish achievement in postwar America. Mendelsohn...created a real connection between past and present, Old World and New. His expressive architecture was emotional, inspirational, and, for America, incredibly new... .” (Gruber, p. 26
|Mendelsohn’s B’nai Amoona Synagogue (now the Center of Contemporary Arts), St. Louis, MO. Mendelsohn’s “dynamic modernist design is dramatically different from the conventional synagogues being built at that time. ...An admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly his plastic forms, Mendelsohn designed this sculptural curved cantilevered roof over the sanctuary. Largely devoid of decoration, the exterior of the sanctuary still bears the star of David as a reminder of this room's earlier sacred function... . Mendelsohn's synagogues were community centers as well as places of worship. In addition to the large sanctuary, this one had a smaller chapel, an assembly hall (now a dance studio), offices, classrooms, a library and kitchen.” (https://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/missouri/stlouis/temple/mendelsohn.html)|
|Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue, Cleveland. (Photo-unknown attribution) “The Park Synagogue in Cleveland is a striking example of European Modernism channeled into a building for worship. The complex is centered on a round sanctuary (...a centralized form that directs all attendees’ attention to a common center, per tradition, and alludes to the symbolism of the ‘Crown of Torah’) covered by a 4″ ferro-concrete dome... .” (“March 21: no one-hit wonder”, Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History, March 21, 2012; https://archhistdaily.wordpress.com/tag/erich-mendelsohn/)|
For Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue (1950) “[a] sprawling complex was conceived, which took full advantage of a spectacular setting, much in the same manner as does Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning ‘Fallingwater’ near Pittsburgh; both are ‘organic architecture.’ The complex was several sections, including auxiliary service structures. ...The dramatic complex, with many circles and curves in its sweeping design, was originally intended to form on the north end an apex with an open-air amphitheater and acoustic shell stage[, not executed... .] ...The outer layer [of the dome] was of preformed copper, expected to blend through natural oxidation with the surrounding landscape. [...The] dome was to ‘promote the illusion of a vast floating cloud atop a glass drum, 65 feet above the pavement.’ ...Mendelsohn was very firm about following his architectural concepts, and one feature he insisted on, despite much congregational resistance, was clear glass windows everywhere-absolutely no stained glass.” (Ken Goldberg, “Park Synagogue”, Cleveland Heights Historical Society; http://www.chhistory.org/Places.php?PlacesContent=ParkSynagogue)
Mendelsohn died after designing only six postwar synagogues, but Percival Goodman’s influence extended further.
In his introduction to a special issue about synagogue architecture in the periodical Jewish History in 2011, Lee Shai Weissbach explained that, “It has frequently been observed that synagogue buildings have long fulfilled three related but somewhat different functions, as reflected in the three Hebrew terms used to designate these buildings. The synagogue customarily has been called a beit knesset, a house of assembly; a beit tefilah, a house of prayer; and also a beit midrash, a house of study. However, there is yet another function of a synagogue building at least as significant as the three usually enumerated, for a synagogue is also a mivneh simli, a symbolic structure fraught with meaning. That is, a synagogue building often acts as a concrete representation of the character and condition of the Jewish community it serves. It can and often does reveal not only who the Jews who make use of it are and how they behave, but also what they think and what they believe.” (Lee Shai Weissbach, “Buildings Fraught with Meaning: An Introduction to a Special Issue on Synagogue Architecture in Context”, Jewish History (2011) 25: p. 1)
|Percival and Naomi Goodman. |
In the Jewish community in the United States, the Goodman brothers sparked a discussion about the architecture and decoration of synagogues on the pages of Commentary beginning in 1947. They called themselves “functionalists”, and they believed “that the chief care and expense should be given to that which gets the most frequent and attentive use. What is to be embellished is not the columns that hold up the roof but the things that are intimately handled and scrutinized. (By the same principle, the construction as a whole, its proportion and color, must be clear and expressive, for they exert an omnipresent pre-conscious effect.) In the synagogue this calls for a much closer integration between architecture, sculpture, and painting than we have seen. [...They mention two problems: ‘at] risk of being polemical, we must mention two current abominations: the memorial stained glass and the eternal electric light. The first is a functional impossibility: the service is throughout a reading of prayers and everyone has a book. The light simply must be bright and white. Further, with Jews as with the Protestants, the visible congregation is of the essence: the mysterious illusive brilliance of real stained glass is glorious, but it is not ours.’” (Percival and Paul Goodman, “Tradition from Function”, in “Creating a Modern Synagogue Style: A Discussion”, Commentary (pre-1986), June 1947; 3, 000006; ProQuest Research Library, p. 543)
|A model of Goodman’s Temple Emanuel in Denver (1960). This model shows where two of the four abstract expressionist, dalle de verre windows were to be placed. (Photo courtesy of Robert Pinart)|
Percival Goodman found an answer to the stained glass “problem” in synagogues in the Abstract Expressionism of mid-century-modern stained glass artists. He used stained glass, mosaics, painting and sculpture as part of his plans for the structure, as did other contemporary architects. “During the 1950s and 1960s approximately one thousand new synagogues were consecrated in the United States, a significant number of which directly commissioned work by Abstract Expressionist artists. ...Although abstraction had long been used to decorate the synagogue, the acceptance of these progressive artists signaled ‘the new’ at this point in history for American Jews. ...Following World War II...American synagogue art and architecture underwent a radical transformation. Such forms as the Moorish mosque came to be seen as foreign to the lives of the modern Jewish congregation. Synagogues were commissioned in the modern style, employing such leading architects as [Edgar Tafel, Fritz Nathan,] Erich Mendelsohn and Percival Goodman.
|Details of two of Robert Pinart's dalle de verre windows. Light can illuminate the sanctuary through the colored dalle de verre installation.|
"These architects adopted a new attitude toward synagogue art, viewing it not as a separate entity but as an integral part of the architecture that must be taken into account at the preliminary stages of the building's design. ...Many architects, temple leaders, and congregation members welcomed the introduction of contemporary art and were sympathetic to the artists' need to work within as few constraints as possible. In general, artists commissioned for the synagogue projects were given almost total freedom in the design and execution of their work. They did, however, have to comply with the logical requirement that they submit plans for their work to the architect and the temple's rabbi for approval. Once the initial approval was given, neither the rabbi nor the architect could interfere with the execution of the work. Thus, although the artists were asked to work within certain parameters, they were still afforded a great deal of independence.” (Janay Jadine Wong, “Synagogue Art of the 1950s”, Art Journal, Vol. 53, No. 4, Winter 1994; http://search.proquest.com/docview/223310016?accountid=35803)
Robert Pinart related how he would sit with Percival and Naomi Goodman in their kitchen and show them his latest drawings for the dalle de verre windows for Temple Emanuel in Denver. Goodman knew down to the smallest detail the “look” he wanted for the sanctuary and gave Pinart the freedom to design the glass to get the proper amount of light for it. It was this type of collaboration that artists such as Robert Sowers, Jacques Duval, and others were looking for in architects.
Since modern synagogue buildings did not have a set form, the architects were free to design almost any type of “skin” for the community within. Congregation Mishkan Israel, designed by the architectural firm of Fritz Nathan* and Bertram Bassuk** in 1958-60, has a distinctive parabolic facade surrounding the sanctuary.
|Congregation Mishkan Israel, Hamden, Connecticut.|
Goodman's concept of the integration of art and architecture can be seen in Manhattan's Fifth Avenue Synagogue (5 East 62nd Street.) The front and rear facades were designed to have oval-shaped stained glass windows from the second to fifth floors. The windows, designed by Robert Pinart, symbolized olive leaves, which in themselves symbolized the land of the Biblical Israelites as well as peace.
|The front facade of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and a detail of the windows.|
In the main sanctuary Goodman continued these windows from the front facade, over the sanctuary ceiling (lit by electricity), and down the rear facade. The olive leaves--and by extension, all that the olive tree meant to the Israelites--surrounded the congregants.
|The main sanctuary showing the front facade and ceiling windows (top) and a smaller chapel (bottom).|
|Congregation Shaarey Zedek. (Photo from the Shaarey Zedek website; http://www.shaareyzedek.org/congregation-shaarey-zedeks-history/)|
The building rises toward the sky from a relatively flat area of land. “The dramatic and sculptural form of the sanctuary rises to a point above the flat landscape and has become a landmark for those traveling the busy highway. The steep galvanized metal roof over the sanctuary transitions to a much lower slope at two hinge-points on each side of [the] building. A band of recessed stained glass windows separates the roof from the concrete and brick walls and gives the impression that the roof is floating above the structure. The abstract reference to a tent form or clasped praying hands is a relatively common design theme seen in several other examples of religious architecture built in Michigan during the 1950s and 1960s.” (http://www.michiganmodern.org/buildings/congregation-shaarey-zedek-synagogue)
In this complex there are “three buildings...joined together with an entrance hall... . The sanctuary roof sweeps up into a peak, the base splayed out to form the roof connecting to the rest of the complex. The other buildings in the complex are low slung and horizontal in contrast to the more vertical sanctuary. Two rows of stained glass, formed of multiple panels each, along the long edges of the peak wall flow from the base of the wall to the top apex. Made of concrete, the sanctuary walls are mostly light gray, contrasting with the darker warmer colors of the other buildings, and the metal roof. The side walls are made of repeating equilateral triangle pre-cast window frames. The approach to the building is towards the profile of the sanctuary, so visitors see the sprawl of the low buildings, and the high peak rising up from them.” (http://www.docomomo-us.org/register/fiche/congregation_shaarey_zedek)
|“The interior space of the sanctuary is wood paneled walls, leading to a white ceiling. The main focal point is the wood and white marbl;e Ark, framed with abstract stained glass, [...which is] supported on the outside by a concrete pylon. The outside of the pylon is decorated with ten pre-cast ornaments representing the ten commandments. The Ark is 40' tall, and the sanctuary ceiling slopes to a height of 100' over it.” (http://www.docomomo-us.org/register/fiche/congregation_shaarey_zedek; Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska Library Archives)|
“The interior of the sanctuary is where true craftsmanship and beauty is fully realized...with the incorporation of beautiful stained glass and woodwork. Mt. Sinai is...the inspiration for the interior view, and the vaulted ceiling progressively extends up in undulating panels to the peak where the ark sits below. In the creation of the sanctuary, the architect reversed the form of the mountain with the sleek stone on the exterior and the jagged interior that resembles the rocky surface. The interior has overly scaled spacial volumes in the sanctuary. ...The stained glass...works with the form of the building to symbolize the burning bush when God spoke to Moses. Everything within the interior works together to draw the eye to the ark and up to Heaven. Behind the ark are two immense walls of wood joined at a 90-degree angle... . Wood panels are adhered to vertical pillars[,...and] each panel is angled 45 degrees downward to contrast with the upward angle of the sanctuary... . The wall appears to be unfinished, which is important...for the Jewish custom to leave elements of the building unfinished-looking in mourning for the loss of Zion.” (Caitlin Wunderlich, “Craft in Detroit: The Evolution and Execution”, p. 20; http://www.umflint.edu/sites/default/files/groups/Research_and_Sponsored_Programs/MOM/c.wunderlich.pdf)
|Robert Pinart’s windows showing use of colored light in Shaarey Zedek. (Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska Library Archives, ID #28266)|
Many of Pinart’s abstract expressionist liturgical commissions illustrate a concept of ascendance, a sense of flowing upwards to commune with the divine. The colors used in the piece as a whole, the shapes of the cut glass pieces, as well as of the whole window or wall, and its position within the room, and especially light, all contribute to this concept. “[Light] in some form--for example natural sunlight, artificial, or colored light--is a design element used by designers as carefully as if it were a tangible building material such as stone or wood. Light can evoke transformational emotions and contribute to ineffable qualities of a space. Light can be juxtaposed with darkness, or can stream from a window as a beam illuminating one object in a space, or can be a presence without a visible source.” (“Multi-faith Spaces: Design Considerations”, p. 4; http://multifaithspaces.com/documents/DesignConsiderations.pdf)
This concept of light can be seen in the windows Pinart designed for Percival Goodman here, and for many other architects. Pinart’s friend, Robert Sowers, who, himself, designed stained glass windows for liturgical commissions, was considered by many the “leader” of the modern abstract stained glass movement in the United States. It was Sowers who wrote a seminal treatise about the primacy of light in the art of stained glass. Sowers wrote that “[once] the dynamic, relational qualities of light are understood,...--physically, psychologically and aesthetically--the function of all the elements that variously contribute to the appearance of a stained-glass window, from architecture to glasspainting, become apparent and fall into place. Whatever their particular merits as architecture or as painting, they can be seen for what they are as elements in this art: so many distinctive ways of modulating light.” (Robert Sowers, The Language of Stained Glass, Timber Press, Inc., Forest Grove, Oregon, 1981, p. 11)
One synagogue, which was organized in 1929 as an Orthodox synagogue, hired the architectural firm of Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett to build a new structure in 1957 after a fire destroyed the old building. The Loop Synagogue in Chicago was a mid-century-modern masterpiece.
|”[The] Loop Synagogue’s architects adapted the design to its hyper-urban setting and used its hemmed-in site as an opportunity to achieve something introspective, inspiring, and uniquely modern.” (John Cramer, “LET THERE BE LIGHT: THE CHICAGO LOOP SYNAGOGUE”, chicago modern: more than mies blog, March 16, 2012; https://chicagomodern.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/let-there-be-light-the-chicago-loop-synagogue/)|
“Loebl, Schlossman, & Bennett’s design...composed the Loop Synagogue using simple planes of metal and glass. At street level, clear floor-to-ceiling storefront glass gives Loop passersby full view of the stone-lined lobby... . Above the street are the expansive stained glass sanctuary windows playfully capped...with [a] jagged overhanging metal cornice. [...]Loebl, Schlossman, & Bennett’s design for the upper sanctuary is pure mid-century modern, finely-detailed but restrained in color and ornament. Restrained, though, is not a good description for American artist Abraham Rattner’s fantastic stained glass that makes up the sanctuary’s east wall. The window’s theme was taken from Genesis’ telling of the first act of creation: ‘And God said, Let there be light; and there was light.’” (John Cramer, “LET THERE BE LIGHT: THE CHICAGO LOOP SYNAGOGUE”, chicago modern: more than mies blog, March 16, 2012; https://chicagomodern.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/let-there-be-light-the-chicago-loop-synagogue/)
|A section of Abraham Rattner’s “Let There Be Light” window in the Loop Synagogue sanctuary. (The Art Institute of Chicago, Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Digital File 80926. Photographer: Teich, Curt, and Co., Inc. [Chicago]; http://digital-libraries.saic.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/mqc/id/36285/rec/1)|
Sowers, himself, designed glass windows for synagogues such as Temple Beth El in Albany, New York--a Percival Goodman synagogue, Congregation Habonim in Manhattan and Temple Sholom in Greenwich, Connecticut--designed by SMS Architects of Stamford, Connecticut.
|Robert Sowers’ windows in the sanctuary of Temple Sholom, Greenwich, Connecticut.|
In an earlier work Sowers wrote of the need for collaboration between the artist and architect in the realm of stained glass, echoing Percival Goodman’s concerns. Stained glass, as well as other architectural art, should be considered an integral part of architecture. Sowers wrote that “[few] artists or architects seem willing to accept the fact that for art and architecture to become a convincing unity each must in some way demand the other for its own completion.” Sowers asked, “Is it true that a building nowadays must be totally and absolutely the creation of the architect in order to be great? Rudolf Schwarz’s St. Anna Church in Düren*, in which artists and artisans were most felicitously employed..., teaches us that this is not necessarily so. Must the work of art always be completely autonomous in order to be worthy of the name? Audincourt**, Vence and Les Bréseux tell us that they need not be.” (Robert Sowers, STAINED GLASS: An Architectural Art, Universe Books, Inc., New York, New York, 1965, p. 97)
|St. Anna’s, Düren (1951). (By Rudolf Schwarz (Moritz Bernoully) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]) and Sacré-Coeur in Audincourt, France (Photo-http://www.artway.eu/content.php?id=796&lang=en&action=show).|
For Sowers, “Incorporating his work into the design of a building was first and foremost on [his] agenda. In his artist's statement from a 1975 solo exhibition at the M[useum of] C[ontemporary] C[rafts], [Sowers] wrote ‘for me stained glass is first, last, and always primarily an architectural art.’” (Jessica Shaykett, “Robert Sowers: the Architectural Art of Glass”, April 25, 2013; http://craftcouncil.org/post/robert-sowers-architectural-art-glass)
*[“St. Anna in Düren is a prime example of one of the ‘inside’ religious structures, ie., the construction is developed from the concerns of the liturgy: the location of the altar can not be read from the outside. Rudolf Schwarz created a church for three user groups: for the ‘larger church’ (the nave with Choir Gallery), for the ‘small community’ (the transept) and for the pilgrims (the open hall). The church ‘increased’ [expanded?] or ‘decreased’ [contracted?], depending on the times.”] (From a liberal Google translation of http://www.strasse-der-moderne.de/portfolio/dueren-anna/)
**[“The interior structure of this church[, Sacré-Coeur,] designed by architect [Maurice] Novarina is straightforward and simple, so that all the attention can be focused on the message that is communicated in this space in word and image. The 17 stain[ed]-glass windows by Fernand Léger, running along the upper side of the three walls, resemble a crown. [not seen above] ...The serene and intimate atmosphere of the crypt [with glass by Jean Le Moal] stands in stark contrast with the euphoria of the baptismal chapel close to the entrance of the church. The walls of this round chapel are completely covered with stain[ed]-glass windows by [Jean René] Bazaine, so that the visitor is immersed in a feast of movement and light.”] (http://www.artway.eu/content.php?id=796&lang=en&action=show)
|￼”The design of Habonim Congregation at 44 West 66th Street[, Manhattan] features a cube rotated 45 degrees and set within another cube. It was designed in 1956 by Stanley Prowler and Frank Falliance.” (David Cobb Craig, “Ten More Mid-Cen Gems in Manhattan”; http://davidcobbcraig.blogspot.com/2011/06/ten-more-mid-cen-gems-in-manhattan.html--Photo and article)|
In 1956 architect Stanley Prowler and associate architect Frank Falliance took over a stalled project and submitted designs for Congregation Habonim on West 66th Street in Manhattan. Sowers incorporated a “prow” of stained glass windows into the design of Congregation Habonim. “The exterior and lobby walls are clad in white-glazed brick with heavy black specks...arranged in a running bond. From West 66th Street, the facade visually indicates the building’s two principal components. To the left is the lobby, which is indicated by three entrance doors below polished plate-glass windows with stainless steel mullion covers. ...To the right is the sanctuary, which features a flat wall of 2”-thick limestone facing with flush joints.
“[...] The wall is interrupted by an angled stained-glass and stainless steel prow that cuts through the center. Each side of the prow features additional stained-glass windows divided by metal mullions.
|(Photos from docomomo-us)|
“[...] The triangle-shaped bema forms the prow shape on the exterior. The bema’s bordering walls feature fireproof walnut spandrels and mullions that frame thirteen abstracted, multicolored stained-glass windows that allow morning light to stream into the space. The sanctuary also contains a curved wooden Ark in the corner of the bema, and stained glass windows on the upper part of the east wall.” (Max Yeston, “Congregation Habonim”, docomomo-us, August 7, 2012; (Photos and article: http://www.docomomo-us.org/register/fiche/congregation_habonim)
In the early 1950s Harold Rambusch, the head of the Rambusch Decorating Company in New York City, was open to new ideas, and was influential in bringing a new generation of stained glass artists to the public's attention. Rambush served on a joint committee of the Stained Glass Association of America and the American Federation of Arts in 1952 which planned an exhibit to be held in 1954 that would "bring to the public examples of the finest contemporary work in stained glass" and would "stimulate artists practicing in other media to explore the field [of stained glass]. ...The 'New Work in Stained Glass' exhibit was a pivitol moment for American stained glass studios; the showcase of contemporary designs in stained glass within an art gallery venue acknowledged a shift in how the artist/designer could be perceived." (Caron Pelletier, "Persistent Innovation: The Rambusch Company and Twentieth-Century Stained Glass and Decorative Glass, 1930-1980", A thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in the History of the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts..., Bard College, March 2008, pp. 69, 73) This exhibit was noticed by architects who designed both religious and secular commissions, and other exhibitions soon followed.
In the 1950s and 1960s the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City (now the Museum of Art and Design), The American Federation of Arts, The Dallas Museum of Art, the University of California Berkeley Department of Architecture, and other institutions, organized a number of exhibitions that focused on the decorative arts as an integral part of architecture. The exhibitions were a unifying factor between architects and artists, whose realms had been mostly kept separate. They introduced the work of artists to architects, as well as to the wider public, and also introduced architects who were amenable to collaboration to artists.
”God and Man in Art” (1958-59), "Art in Architecture" (1960), “Collaboration: Artists and Architects” (1962), and “Architectural Glass” (1968) were four exhibitions being held around the country at that time that tried to bring together artists and architects:
“God and Man in Art” was a circulating exhibition of contemporary religious art, craft and architecture organized by The American Federation of Arts from March 1958 through March 1959. This exhibition “tried to present Churches and Synagogues in which the TOTAL building shaped everything down to the final detail. In such buildings, painting, sculpture and glass are as much a part of the original concept as bricks and mortar. Completed, the edifice stands as an integrated prayer to God. In order to accomplish this, the personal vision of a number of artists must be unified. The clergyman must come to the collaboration with the knowledge that his training is theological rather than esthetic. The architect must understand the spiritual as well as the material needs of the congregation. The worshiper too...must open his mind as well as his heart when he goes to church. He must try to enter the artist’s vision--not impose his own.” (Eloise Spaeth, “Foreward”, God and Man in Art, The American Federation of Arts, New York, New York, 1958, p. 5)
A traveling exhibition, “Art in Architecture”, organized on the West coast by the University of California Berkeley Department of Architecture and Paule Anglim (1923-2015) of Architectural Art Services in San Francisco in 1960 “[...dealt] with art in architecture, interior design and landscape planning. The work of more than 50 artists [was] represented by photographic enlargements of art in architectural context[,] by sculpture, murals, tapestries, stained glass, architectural materials and scale models.” This exhibit was based on the work of Ms. Anglim, who specialized in bringing architects and artists together to help solve design problems. (“New Polk Architecture--Art School Offering Exhibition At Open House”, The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, Friday, August 5, 1960, Section 3, p. 1) Both Robert Pinart, whose glass is found in a number of mid-century synagogues, and his wife, ceramic tile muralist Jean Nison, whose work was commissioned by church architects, were participants.
In his introduction to an article about the exhibition “Collaboration: Artists and Architects”, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in 1962, David R. Campbell wrote that “[in] themselves, the practical preoccupations of the architect have been a strong force in keeping the arts separate. Yet, beyond that force there was a professional ideal of the architect that for a generation made the separation near complete. Unbound by the structural limitations of the past—with new materials and methods of building to express form, texture, and volume— the architect was challenged to make his structure a thing of beauty sufficient unto itself. Now there is evidence that this attitude is changing. We are being reminded of the value of aesthetic collaboration, and, in turn, we are becoming aware of a new association between the architect and the artist. But the relationship appears to be different from that which existed in the past. It is one conceived in a manner that satisfies both the sensitive and the rational man. It is less an attempt to integrate than to give meaning to space by relating form and use to human proportions and by rejoining the arts under a common roof.” (David R. Campbell, “Art and Architecture, Craft Horizons, Vol. XXII, No. 3, p. 8)
The Exhibition Catalog for “Architectural Glass", organized by the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in 1968, states that, “[t]his exhibition has been assembled to illustrate some of the recent developments in the work of artist-craftsmen creating glass panels for the enrichment of the architectural environment. The availability of new and abundant materials, such as plate and commercial glass and a variety of resin adhesives, has freed the artist from limiting his work to traditional methods of construction. New areas of expression have been opened to this art form through technological advance. The architectural use of decorative glass panels to create an atmosphere within an environment and to effect spaces has in recent years been primarily for religious purposes. The medium, however, lends itself equally well to the enhancement of public and commercial spaces such as offices and theaters and of private dwellings. [...] The works in this exhibition are united, despite diversity of style and technique by their concern with the singularly timeless and thus timely qualities of light as it animates, and is itself transformed by, colored and textured glass.” (Architectural Glass, Catalog of the exhibition "Architectural Glass" held at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City from January 19 through March 24, 1968, Digital Publisher, American Crafts Council, 2011-07, pp. 2-3; http://digital.craftcouncil.org/cdm/fullbrowser/collection/p15785coll6/id/779/rv/compoundobject/cpd/790) As we have seen, this concern with light in the mid-century synagogues echoes a major concern of synagogue architects like Goodman and others.
The use of new types of glass and adhesive strata is emphasized in the catalog: “What is most significant about the recent technical innovations in this medium is that they are radically extending its expressive resources both in the direction of greater transparency, through the substitution of plate glass and clear resinous glue supports for the previously necessary opaque armatures of lead or concrete; and in the direction of a greater palpability, through a variety of devices. One finds, for example, an increasing use of mechanically textured glass which rather aggressively refracts the light, and of opalescent and opal-flashed glass which not only transmits but reflects back toward the light some of its color. There is an increasing emphasis on the concrete in slab-glass-and-concrete, which in any case is like a form of translucent masonry compared to the traditional leaded window; and in certain other works still thicker free forms of cast glass are employed in a way which is clearly sculptural.” (Architectural Glass, p. 3)
Robert Sowers was a consultant to this exhibition, besides contributing his work; David Wilson, Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova, Fernand Léger, and Robert Pinart were other glass artist participants.
“[...]American synagogue architects such as Eric Mendelsohn (1887-1953) and Percival Goodman (1904-1989) began constructing sanctuaries that placed a greater focus on overall form and eliminated any applied historical ornament. Designers now utilized volume for symbolic association, and frequently chose building profiles that simulated mountains or tents. Architects avoided axial symmetry for the structure as a whole, but gave a symmetrical treatment to the facades of the more significant building units, such as the sanctuary. While historicist architectural decoration was completely purged, interior decoration, including symbolic sculpture, mosaics, tapestries, or ritual lamps integrated into the architectural design, was being used at an increasing rate to provide punctuated accents to enliven the space. Progressive architectural critics praised the modern synagogue styles in magazines and newspapers, which helped increase their popularity. The repetition of the aforementioned stylistic trends helped give the postwar American synagogue a recognizable style.” (http://www.docomomo-us.org/register/fiche/congregation_habonim)
Jewish synagogues were built in large numbers after World War II partly as a result of the urbanization of the Jewish population and the consequences of the Holocaust. Many artists and architects became close collaborators in the building and decoration of those synagogues in the post World War II decades. New construction materials and a break with past historic styles allowed for new types of structures. Decorative art became integral to the structures' designs, and the success of this new collaboration, in turn, continued to fuel the large-scale building boom of synagogues in the mid-twentieth century.
LIST OF PAST ARTICLES
Egyptian, Moorish and Middle Eastern Ornamentation Used In Art Deco Terra Cotta in New York City, and Empire State Dairy Update
Wall Murals in Brooklyn: A Mini Survey
Inside Prospect Park: The park's Rustic, Classical and other Internal Architecture
Herman Carl Mueller in Titusville and Trenton, New Jersey; A Charles Volkmar Discovery in Clifton, New Jersey
A Book Review and New Discoveries and Updates-II: Jean Nisan, Ceramic Tile Artist
Polychrome Terra Cotta Buildings in Newark, New Jersey
New Discoveries-I: The Tiled House of Jere T. Smith
Introducing the Stained and Dalle de Verre Glass Art of Robert Pinart
Bits and Pieces: Polychrome Terra Cotta- and Tile-Clad Buildings
Socialist and Labor Architecture and Iconography in New York City
Bits and Pieces: Two Mosaics--Hamden, CT and Manchester, NH
The Renaissance Casino and Ballroom Complex in Harlem: Another Tunisian Tile Installation Headed for Demolition
Clement J. Barnhorn and the Rookwood Pottery
The Woolworth Building
The Mosaic Art of Hildreth Meière
Lost Tile Installations: The Tunisian Tiles of the Chemla Family
The Grueby Children's Murals on East 104th Street
The Experimental Lustre Tiles of Rafael Guastavino, Jr.
Bits and Pieces: Two "E"s--Eltinge and Elks; and more about Jean Nison
The Ceramic Tiles and Murals of Jean Nison
Pleasant Days in Short Hills: A Rookwood Wonderland
Architectural Ceramics in the Queen City
Isaac Broome: Innovation and Design in the Tile Industry after the Centennial Exhibition
"Immigration on the Lower East Side": A Public Arts Mural Created by Richard Haas
Movie Palaces-Part 2: The Loews 175th Street Theatre
Béton-Coignet in New York: The New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company
Michelin House, London
Movie Palaces, Part 1: Loew's Valencia Theatre
An Architectural and Ceramic Tour of Istanbul - Part II
The Tiles of Fonthill Castle
An Architectural and Ceramic Tour of Istanbul - Part I
Tiled Facades in Madrid
Nineteenth Century Brooklyn Potteries
Ernest Batchelder in Manhattan
Leon Victor Solon: Color, Ceramics and Architecture
Architectural Art Tiles in Reading, Pennsylvania
Charles Lamb and Charles Volkmar
Kansas City Architecture - II
Kansas City Architecture - I
Westchester County--Atwood and Grueby
Modern Houses in New Caanan, Connecticut
PPG Place, Pittsburgh
Aluminum City Terrace, New Kensington, Pennsylvania
Newark's WPA Tile Murals: “Fine Art is an Important Part of Everyday Life”
Public Art Programs in New York City: The CETA Tile Murals at Clark Street
Concrete and Tiles-I: Moyer, Mercer, Murosa
The Café Savarin and the Rookwood Pottery; Chocolate Shoppe Rebounds
Architectural Ceramics of Henry Varnum Poor
Herman Carl Mueller and the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle
Meet Me at the Astor
The Mikvah Under 5 Allen Street; "Historic Hall" Apartments Revisited
Some Moravian Tile Sites in New York
Brooklyn's International Tile Company
Subway Tiles-Part III, the Squire Vickers Era
Subway Tiles-Part II, Heins and LaFarge
Subway Tiles--Part I, Guastavino tiles
Trent in New York-Part III, Historic Hall Apartment House
American Encaustic Tiling Company-Part II, Artists' Tiles
Trent in New York-Part II, a Dey Street Restaurant
American Encaustic Tiling Company-Part I, Tile Showrooms
Trent in New York-Part I, The Bronx Theatre
Fred Dana Marsh's Tiles