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Big tent philosophy: spatial reorganization and relighting of a tent-like 1950s' synagogue in Beverly Hills creates an environment of contemporary elegance that respects its historical origin.

Founded in 1937, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills has served a growing membership to become one of the largest centers for Reform Judaism in the greater Los Angeles area. After 55 years of occupying its current synagogue building--designed by mid-century architect Sidney Eisenshtat, a specialist in religious institutions--the temple's lay and religious leaders determined that a physical rehabilitation was needed to maintain its status into the 21st century.


In 2008, the synagogue embarked on a mission to reflect the shifts in the way the Temple was perceived and used by its congregation while respecting Eisenshtat's original vision. Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCHS), Los Angeles, were retained as architects and landscape architects, with lighting by [e.sup.2] Lighting Design, Hermosa Beach, CA.

Since the '50s, the structure had undergone a series of uncoordinated changes that included covering its handsome, slender stained-glass windows plus other ad-hoc alterations that resulted in dim and uninspiring environments. Throughout the rehabilitation planning phases, the program to bring light, innovative technologies and a flexible organization of the building's 11,000 sq ft reflected the philosophy of the synagogue's rabbinical leadership. "The clergy understood the sophisticated role that the temple's space plays in supporting the liturgy and in serving the community," says Michael Sweeney, RCHS associate and project architect for Temple Emanuel's rehabilitation. "One of our objectives was to peel back the incremental changes that had been made without the benefit of a master plan."


For example, RCHS's research revealed that Eisenshtat's original concept for the sanctuary was to evoke the feeling of a tent, which according to traditional lore, was used by the Jews living in the desert following their exodus from Egypt to house the Ark of the Covenant. The dark-blue painted ceiling had scattered, small recessed lamps to give the impression of stars, but the overall sanctuary lighting was minimal. "When the sun shone on the eastern side of the building and hit the narrow stained glass windows, the light coming through created slash-like patterns. To avoid this sharp contrast, they had been blocked off," explains lighting designer Erin Erdman of [e.sup.2] Lighting Design.



Adding to the dated feeling of the sanctuary was rigid theater seating, a massive elevated bimah and a drop ceiling in part of the social hall. RCHS, following the stated objectives of the building committee members to bring the services closer to the worshippers, leveled the original raked floor, lowered the bimah to provide accessibility and replaced the rows of fixed seating with flexible upholstered armchairs that can be reconfigured into a circular pattern or other grouping.


Another key structural renovation was the installation of a 13-ft diameter oculus to bring daylight into the sanctuary. "The ceiling, formerly depicting the night sky, now not only introduces the daytime sun, it is an architectural expression of the Temple's generational change," says Sweeney.

Erdman and her team were dealing with a hodge-podge of retrofits, she recalls. They devised a system of layers of light "to pay homage to the building." The 17-ft-high dark-blue ceiling was newly painted in a warm medium-gray tone. Downlights are organized on a subtle grid to impart a casual impression while providing sufficient illumination for the reading of prayer books or other printed materials.

"It gives the impression of a starry sky but has meaning and rhythm. Using the oculus as a starting point, the placement of the downlights spins out as a concentric circle in pre-determined distances," says Erdman. "When we specified these lamps in mid-2009, there weren't LEDs available with enough punch to provide the illumination needed for our purposes in the sanctuary." From a full-height mock-up of the ceiling, recessed 20-W ceramic metal halide downlights, 4 1/4-in. wide beam, were tested and approved. "Because metal halide is not a dimmable source, the downlights are on four circuits, allowing for 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent and 100 percent downlights," says Erdman. The system is on a Lutron Graphic Eye controller, allowing preset scenes for various types of services. Rimming the oculus is a darker contrasting border that is inset with eight 75-W PAR38 adjustable downlights.


Four framing projectors light four individual pieces: two wall-mounted marble tablets and the two lions on the panels framing the ark. Recessed adjustable 75-W PAR38 fixtures are aimed at the bimah's reading table from which the Torah is read at services. Stretching along the platform behind the bimah is a full-height wall formed of vertical white-painted wood slats backed with white fabric. Mounted behind a rail along the top are 54-W T5HO dimmable fluorescent fixtures that graze down the wall. "They add vertical illumination while lighting the platform," Erdman says.

Sweeney points out that the bronze eternal light over the ark has been rewired with a solar-powered LED and battery back-up system to ensure that it remains lighted. On the wall to the left of the platform is another original fixture, the menorah that commemorates Hanukah, the holiday of the lights. It shines anew with upgraded wiring and new 2-W LED lamps.


Temple Emanuel's sanctuary can be expanded in size from the dimensions of the space in use during most of the year for services, to accommodate additional worshippers for High Holiday services and for social events sponsored by the congregants and associated organizations."An original metal retracting wall, of the type used in airplane hangers or in factories, was still in fine working condition," says Sweeney. "It was shined and re-oiled, and operates by rolling up into the ceiling slot to create a single unified space."

Defining the social hall are a dozen circular in-ceiling aluminum rings that symbolize the 12 ancient tribes of Israel. Output from LED strip lights within the channels can be customized from white to RGB colors of the user's preference. "It's a real fun feature. The bar mitzvah boys often choose purple to represent the colors of the L.A. Lakers basketball team," notes Sweeney.

The circle theme was interpreted by design architect Eisenshtat by the open entablature in the entry courtyard. Erdman added the same recessed compact fluorescent 32-W, 6-in. downlights used in the interior as wall wash to accent the new circular pattern stone paving. At the base of the pairs of supporting columns, she specified in-ground 20-W medium spot-distribution CMH uplights, double-lensed and with brass faceplates. Color temperature of the facility's metal halide fixtures at 3,000K and the fluorescent at 3,500K is "harmonious," according to Erdman.





Erin Erdman, IALD, Member IES (2005), is a principal at [e.sup.2] Lighting Design.

Michael Sweeney, LEED AP, is an associate and project architect with Rios Clementi Hale Studios, Los Angeles.

RELATED ARTICLE: Shop Turned Synagogue

SoHo (the acronym for South of Houston Street) has become a destination for fashion boutiques, restaurants and residences in lower manhattan. But up until July of last year, there was no permanent place of worship for Jewish residents.

A congregation was formed and commissioned architect Dror Benshetrit of Studio Dror, New York City, to create a synagogue in a long rectangular below-ground space that had been vacated by a women's apparel shop. At street level, it is identified simply as "synagogue" by an illuminated sign above the stripe-pattern glass facade. Past the entry platform is a steel and glass stairwell leading to the sanctuary. Extending above the entry and into the sanctuary, Benshetrit designed a 5-in. deep black recessed branch-like fixture, holding black-finish PAR30 lamps. The far end of this fixture is directed to the Torah, which is enclosed in a circular arc. A double row of eight spotlights accents the exposed brick walls.

Suspended on individual cords above the armless couches for congregant seating that flank the center aisle are bare single Edison-style lamps.

--Vilma Barr


Temple Emanuel

Watts per sq ft: 1.33 (based on California's Title 24 Area Category Method, combining areas for religious worship, conference/meeting, lobby, and restroom/corridor)

Illuminance Levels: sanctuary = 30 fc; social hall = 20 fc

Lamp Types: 13

Fixture Types: 23

Vilma Barr is a regular contributor to LD+A.
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Title Annotation:TEMPLE EMANUEL
Author:Barr, Vilma
Publication:LD+A Magazine
Article Type:Company overview
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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