Iconic Wilshire Blvd Temple in LA Gets State-of-the-Art Companion Pavilion
Edited by: TJVNews.com
The iconic Wilshire Boulevard Temple in the heart of Los Angeles has a history all its own and it storied past now has a companion of sorts. The Wall Street Journal reported that the synagogue opened in 1929 and became the principal synagogue of Hollywood’s own version of royalty and fame. MGM founder Louis B. Mayer spoke at its opening, the funeral of Irving Thalberg was held there, and the Warner Brothers paid for its brilliant 320-foot frieze depicting the history of the Jewish people. It was built in modern Byzantine style crowned with a prominent dome, according to the report.
Now, the new Audrey Irmas Pavilion, which opened earlier this year stands alongside it, directly to the east, and “was expected to match it in terms of size, quality of execution, and ambition—even as it deferred to it,” according to the WSJ report.
The report indicated that in the late 1970s, architect Rem Koolhaas founded his firm OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) around the insight that says that architecture should concern itself not with ideas but images. The pavilion, according to the WSJ report is OMA’s first major work in Los Angeles, as well as its first work for a religious institution. The 55,000-square-foot pavilion was constructed at the cost of $95 million.
The architect on this grand project was Shohei Shigematsu, the longtime OMA partner and head of its New York office, whose work displays all the Koolhaas mannerisms, according to the WSJ report.
The Audrey Irmas Pavilion is a new addition into the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Glazer Family Campus that will serve as a multi-purpose event space for both the congregation and the surrounding city, according to OMA.com web site. The pavilion will be a gathering place, forging new connections with the existing campus activities and inviting the urban realm into the new civic anchor.
The web site added: “We have been trying to build in Los Angeles for more than a decade and the Audrey Irmas Pavilion for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple marks our first cultural building in the city. It is also our first religious institution. Religious institutions have always played a critical role in civic life as places for communal activities in and out of worship.”
The temple’s vision for its campus was to create a space to host the multiple ways in which people convene. How can the new pavilion harness the energy of gathering that is simultaneously respectful to historic traditions and reflective of modern civic needs?
The OMA web site says that they “wanted the building to be iconic enough to be recognized as a new civic entity but subtle enough to complement the iconicism of the existing temple. Our approach is simple yet contextual. The starting point was a box: the all-too-generic model for an event space. The basic box is shaped with forms out of respect to the adjacent historical buildings on the campus.”
On the west side, the building slopes away from the existing temple, creating a thoughtful buffer and framing a new courtyard between the two buildings. The pavilion leans south, away from the historic school, opening an existing courtyard to the sky and bringing light in. The parallelogram simultaneously reaches out toward the main urban corridor, Wilshire Boulevard, to establish a new urban presence. The resulting form is carved by its relationship to its neighbors. It is both enigmatic and familiar, creating a counterpoint to the temple that is at once deferential and forward-looking.
The facade draws from the geometries of the temple’s dome interior. A single hexagon unit with a rectangular window is rotated to reflect the program within and aggregated to create a distinct pattern. The panels enhance the building’s volumetric character while adding a human-scaled texture that breaks down its mass.
Event spaces often sacrifice character for flexibility. Here, flexibility is provided through diversity in scale and spatial characters for gathering. The pavilion consists of three distinct gathering spaces expressed as voids punctured through the building—a main event space (large), a chapel and terrace (medium), and a sunken garden (small). The three spaces are interlocked and stacked one atop another to establish vantage points in and out of each space. Within each space are a series of openings that filter light and frame views to the temple and historic school, reorienting visitors to the complex and beyond.
At the ground level, the main event space echoes the temple dome by lowering the arc and extruding it north across the site to connect Wilshire Boulevard to the school courtyard. In its full length, the vaulted, column-free expanse has the capacity to host diverse programs such as banquets, markets, conventions, performances, and art events. An oculus provides a view through the void above to the dome of the historic temple.
On the second level is a more intimate chapel and outdoor terrace. The trapezoidal room and terrace face west, framing the arched stained-glass windows of the historic temple. A third void is a sunken garden that connects smaller meeting rooms on the third floor to the rooftop event space with expansive views of Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign, and the mountains to the north. Together, the voids establish a diverse collection of spaces for multiple purposes—from sermons and studies, to b’nai and b’not mitzvah and concerts, to work and relaxation.
The WSJ report concludes by saying if the Wilshire Boulevard synagogue suggests a Cecil B. DeMille biblical epic then the new pavilion is “more suited to our world of computer-generated special effects and virtual reality. It is fitting that OMA’s theory-free architecture of images would eventually find a place in delirious Los Angeles, so to speak, manifested as a gloriously crafted wrapper.”