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Temple Beth El / Charlotte, North Carolina

Temple Beth El occupies a site adjacent to the entry drive in Sholom Park, a Jewish campus that was developed with a community center as the central facility. The center provides recreational and social community facilities as well as shared educational and meeting spaces for two independent synagogues which flank its approach. The program called for a 350-seat sanctuary, expandable to 1200 for the High Holy Days. This design attempts to integrate the expansion space so that all congregants feel equally a part of the worship community, regardless of where they are seated. Also included in the program was a small chapel, social hall, meeting rooms, and administrative offices.

Situated in the traditional manner, oriented toward the east on top of a hill, the synagogue is reached via a circular drive and promenade, which arrive at the first quadrant [vehicular drop-off] of a four-quadrant plan. The other quadrants, a ceremonial court which serves as a focus for the internal circulation and various ancillary functions, the sanctuary and the social hall, are connected by a circulation spine which terminates at an overlook and pedestrian connection to the community center.

The focus of the new sanctuary – an historic Ark dating from the early 1920’s – inspired the cast stone and stucco vocabulary of the exterior and helped shape the interior space, giving the building a quiet classical character. Other notable features include the sanctuary’s thrust sky lit Bimah and unique ceiling vault. This vault, which extends beyond the boundaries of the room, further unifies the High Holiday worship experience, and floods the space with light from the clerestories at the spring point of the vault on either side. The careful attention given to both natural and artificial lighting, foster dramatic spatial changes reflecting nature’s daily cycle, thereby reinforcing the synagogue’s spiritual character and making it warm and inviting at all times.

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