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Renowned architecture practice OMA are nearing completion on the Audrey Irmas Pavilion, a 55, 000 square foot addition to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple's downtown Los Angeles Campus, L.A's oldest Jewish congregation. The project marks OMA's first cultural project in LA as well as OMA New York's first religious commission.
Named for its lead donor, life-long congregation member Audrey Irmas who launched the capital campaign for the project in 2015 with a record breaking $30 million dollar gift, the Pavilion is expected to open in January 2022 on Hollywood's famous Wilshire Boulevard.
OMA won the bid from a strong field of competitors in 2015 and spent the next six years collaborating with the Temple on the project, refining the goals and objectives in concert with the congregation's wishes. The brief called for a platform for gathering, both for members of the Temple's congregation as well as for the community, with a vision of cementing the campus as a new civic anchor for the broader region.
OMA grounded the project in simplicity by starting with a box model, the common frame for an event space. But they contextualized the box's form in response to the cultural and physical geography of the site to create a wider conversation between various elements of the existing campus.
The Audrey Irnas Pavilion takes the form of a parallelogram with a dramatically sloping façade punctured by hundreds of cutout windows. In respectful deference to history, the building slopes away to the west from the existing synagogue, a Byzantine revival style structure topped by an ornate dome which was built in 1929. A new courtyard between the Temple and new addition serves as both buffer and connective tissue between the two spaces. To the south, the Pavilion slopes away from the existing historic campus school, again a spatial metaphorical 'bow' to history.
Placing the build on this angle allows light to penetrate an existing courtyard, so that rather than the new build casting a shadow, it instead engages in a dynamic dialogue with history. Simultaneously, the new form reaches out toward Wilshire Boulevard, a core urban corridor of downtown LA, as if beckoning the wider community into a new spatial relationship and connecting the campus to the city beyond. The form is contemporary yet deferential, strikingly bold yet evoking a sense of fluidity.
When designing event spaces, aesthetics must be balanced with flexibility and practicality. For the Pavilion, OMA created three distinct spaces of different scales, shapes, and form, interlocked and stacked on top of one another so that they are expressed as voids punctured throughout the building, each with unique internal vantage points and framed views orienting visitors to reflect on the broader history of the site.
“We assembled a constellation of spaces, distinct in form, scale, and aura—Three interconnected voids make the solid form of the Pavilion strategically yet surprisingly porous, engaging the campus and the city. The Pavilion will support both old and new activities, values, and traditions to foster a renewed energy for gathering.”
- Shohei Shigematsu, Head of OMA's New York office and project lead
At ground level, the large main event space is expressed as an extruded vault and forms a central, multi-functional gathering space with the ability to host a diverse range of programs from banquets to conventions to performances and art showcases. It also serves as a connective spine uniting the other elements. The vaulted space mirrors the sanctuary of the adjacent synagogue and a large arched window echoes the shape of Temple dome but lowers the arc and extrudes it north, facing Wilshire Boulevard in a gesture of openness, as if to invite the whole city inside the space.
The more intimate chapel and terrace space on the second level offers a trapezoidal void which echoes the tones of the existing Temple and features a large window cutout facing the Temple, framing and showcasing its arched, stained-glass windows through a contemporary lens.
The third floor space centres around a circular sunken garden (designed in collaboration with LA- based Studio - MLA who also designed the courtyard and landscaped elements). This garden oasis serves as both greenspace for contemplation and meditation as well as connecting a series of smaller meeting rooms on this level with a large rooftop event space featuring expansive views of downtown Los Angeles and its famous Hollywood sign and mountainscapes.
Woven into these various spaces are unexpected openings as well as shadows and shapes cast by the façade cutouts which play with light and space. A range of views are framed, with primacy given to the Temple and school, anchoring visitors in the site history even whilst traversing the thoroughly modern new addition, playing with relationships between old and new, internal and external. Together, the diversity of spaces facilitate a remarkably nimble infrastructure capable of catering to a multitude of diverse community needs - from worship and contemplation to study and learning to conversations and celebrations.
The Temple's interior dome informs the geometry of the façade, which is made up of 1,230 GFRC (Glass Fibre Reinforced Concrete) panels, each in the shape of a hexagon unit inset with a rectangular window at various angles of rotation. The windows reflect the interior and the hexagons are aggregated to create a distinct pattern. The water-blasted, textured panels enhance the Pavilion's volumetric character but fragment its mass to a more human scaled texture, allowing the monolithic structure to appear porous. The tones and textures were chosen to reflect and extend those of the existing Temple, and interplays with light throughout the day further invite new perspectives on the surroundings.
For the interior of the Pavilion, OMA founder and Pritzker Prize winning architect Rem Koolhaas was commissioned to design a mezuzah for each door frame. The mezuzah is a piece of parchment inscribed with Hebrew verses housed in a decorative case hung above doorways in Jewish homes as a reminder of God's presence and signifying the space as a place of kindness and peace. Koolhaas developed each shin (individual letters fixed atop each mezuzah) to be hand-cut, filed, and polished before being adhered. The mezuzahs were crafted from aluminium foam and cast in colored resin. Such meticulous attention to detail is indicative of the integrated nature of the project and the importance placed on reverence for the synagogue's rich history.
In the words of rabbi Steven Leder, the new Pavilion:
"embodies the intention of the congregation to be a dynamic part of the 21st-century spiritual and cultural conversation that is Los Angeles".
It's futuristic design balances functionality and dynamism with reflection and reverence. The design respects tradition whilst embracing modern civic needs and is informed by both spiritual and municipal missions and values. The Audrey Irnas Pavilion elevates the ability for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple's community outreach programs to meet a more diverse range of uses and cements the legacy and continuing role of the Temple as a vital, relevant, and inclusive space for gathering and sharing in the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles long into the future.