“The Road Traveled” from USCJ Journals

Michael Landau

Michael Landau, AIA, who has more than 50 years of experience in the planning, design and construction of worship facilities and whose design work has been recognized nationally through awards, publications and exhibitions, answers the question:

What’s a journey you’re on right now and what excites you most about it?

The design of synagogues has been an integral aspect of my 50-plus years long career as an architect. In fact, my thesis project for architectural school way back in 1965 was a synagogue.

The journey I find myself on currently is an opportunity to devote time to meaningful and inspiring activities. That includes designing synagogues, and also includes as much travel as my wife and I can arrange for ourselves, with frequent forays into scuba diving.

Photo caption: Altneuschul Interior

One of our recent trips to Prague included Shabbat services at Altneuschul, Europe’s oldest, continuously active synagogue, and one to which I have a personal, familial connection: From 1753-1792, my direct ancestor Yechezkel Landau, the Noda Biyhudah, was the rabbi of Altneuschul. He was also chief rabbi of Prague for most of that time.

Services at Altneuschul, which literally translated means “the old new synagogue,” are entirely in Hebrew and have remained unchanged over the last 250 years. The temple building itself dates back to 1260 CE. This had a powerful impact for me, as I was able to vividly imagine my six-times-great-grandfather on the bimah, leading the service. This palpable, direct connection to my own family history, as well as to the history of our people in Europe, made the experience unforgettable and deeply moving.

Rabbi Noda Biyhudah
Photo caption: Rabbi Noda Biyhudah

Attending the service was also eye opening on many levels. For example, while I enjoyed a profound and moving Shabbat experience in the sanctuary, my wife’s experience was dramatically different. She and the other women in attendance sat in a space separated from the sanctuary by a 3-foot-thick masonry wall. Only a narrow slit in this barrier offered them a view and hearing of the services. I also noticed that of the 70 or so men and children in the sanctuary, about half were tourists like me, though likely without a family connection to the space like my own.

Our visit to Altneuschul now resonates in almost every aspect of my work. I think of the feeling of that sacred space as I consider a new sanctuary design, hoping to contribute a sense of meaning and belonging for the future congregants there. At the same time, my partners and I look to balance that feeling with light, joy and inclusiveness. My hope is that our works could impact the future of Judaism in ways as lasting and as powerful as Old New Synagogue in Prague has done for the past and present.



Beth Israel Center
Michael Landau and Paul Harding’s approach reflects a carefully weighted balance of creative genius and practical reality. Their professional styles complement each other, and they form a symbiotic consulting team.

Michael and Paul led Beth Israel Center thorough an open, interactive feasibility process that included the development committee, the synagogue leadership, and the entire congregational membership. They offer a wealth of past experience in synagogue design, and they remained sensitive to the fragile boundary between our desire for change and our strong ties to the past. Under their guidance, we met our timeline, and we were able to incorporate current and future synagogue trends as we studied the specific challenges and opportunities of our aging building and complicated site.

With Michael and Paul’s attentive, professional support, we developed a range of renovation scenarios that allowed us to envision solutions for our spiritual and programmatic needs – and articulate our expansion priorities to the wider Madison community. Most important, we continued to honor environmental and accessibility concerns while moving our project forward with alternative implementation strategies and realistic cost projections.
– Judy Karofsky, Chair, Beth Israel Center Development Committee – Madison, WI

Temple Beth El
“The sanctuary is a catalyst. People really like it. They feel ‘spiritual’ though they don’t necessarily know why.”

‘When you look at the exterior you know you are in the presence of a strong contemporary building, and then you enter through the present and suddenly you are looking down to the past, the focal point – the ancient Torah. The building is deeply respectful but also deeply modern.”
– IFRAA Honor Award Jury

New Hope Missionary Baptist Church
“This project has a wonderful use of light, simple forms, and fits the rural setting. The quality of light and interior transparency is especially uplifting.”
– Millennium Faith and Form/IFRAA Religious Architecture Award Jury

“Having shared our experiences and listened to the needs of the congregation, Mr. Harding designed a creative facility that exceeds our expectations. The openness, the sight lines, and the original stained glass window in the fellowship hall are simply spectacular.”
– Alfonso Thruman, Trustee and Building Committee Chairman

Congregation Micah
“The people of the Congregation Micah have succeeded in a holy task. They have not only commissioned and nurtured an extraordinary example of religious architecture; they also have built a sanctuary for our people, a depository for our memories, and a home that nurtures the Jewish spirit.”
– Rabbi James Brandt

“Arriving at the site I stood alone at what will be the building entry and said aloud, ‘He did it. He actually did it!’. ‘He’ of course is our architect. ‘It’ is what seemed at the time to be an impossible task.”
– Howard Stringer, Congregation President

“Yesterday I stood in front of the beautiful, circular ark, the concrete core which supports the entire sanctuary structure, and I marveled at the closeness of every one of the seats. The intimacy, even in so large a structure, is still there.”
– Rabbi Ken Kanter

Chicago Culture Center
“We commend the variety of worship spaces and particularly appreciate the simplicity of the primary gathering space. Very successful building produced on a very limited budget.”
IFRAA Religious Architecture Award Jury

Hevreh of Southern Berkshire
“We love our Hevreh building. Thanks for making it happen.”
– Priscilla and Rabbi Jack Stern, Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, Great Barrington, MA

“As wonderful as the building was when we looked at it a few weeks ago, I must tell you, it comes alive when it is filled with 400 proud congregants. The nuance of design, in particular the entrance to the sanctuary is subtle yet powerful. When I was in Israel I remember seeing one of the oldest synagogues which was located in a cave. That cave seemed echoed in that entrance. Then, when you walk in, what a surprise! The room soars. It is really wonderful, exciting and expansive yet warm and homey. Bravo!”
– Allan Blau, Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, Great Barrington, MA

Broadview Missionary Baptist Church
“It is exciting to see a well designed building that reflects our vision for the church and our unique needs. We appreciate your efforts to deliver a quality product that considered our budget and schedule.”
– Mr. Harvey Bond, Building Committee Chairman

Southside Tabernacle
“Harding Partners offers the professionalism, expertise, creativity and tenacity required in the timely completion of our project. We found Harding Partners went the extra mile in seeing the project through to completion.”
– Spencer Jones, Senior Pastor