Posted in projects on April 7, 2015 10:00 am EDT

Design Helps Oakland’s Temple Sinai Make Unity a Priority

A downtown expansion intertwines old and new --- enabling a congregation to emphasize community connection, unity and environmental stewardship.

Temple Sinai, Oakland, Calif. Images courtesy of Mark Horton/Architecture.











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TAGS: architectural design, award winner, community connection, community space, sustainability, urban development,


By Rachel Hayes

Community and unity are clearly connected, but have different connotations and executions. In 2009, First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland sought more of both, inside and outside its historic facility in downtown Oakland, Calif.

The Congregation formed in 1875 and established its Oakland Home, Temple Sinai, in 1878. Generations later, organic growth in congregation size and square footage resulted in space that was somewhat functional, but not large enough or conducive to community. Multiple entrances and disjointed programming areas meant some congregants never saw or interacted with one another. Fortunately, over a decade the congregation acquired adjacent property as buildings became vacant, according to Paul Geduldig, executive director of Temple Sinai, and finally had enough for an expansion in 2009.

“The goal was to add the needed space and functions, but with a sense of community. They wanted to make disparate users feel like one."

—Mark Horton, Principal, Mark Horton/Architecture

Visual interest is enhanced by a two-story change in site grade.

“The goal was to add the needed space and functions, but with a sense of community. They wanted to make disparate users feel like one,” recalls Mark Horton, principal of Mark Horton/Architecture, which joined Michael Harris Architecture to form MH2, the project’s architectural firm.

From the first meeting with the building committee, Horton recalls a foundational project concept being tikkun olam—its Jewish meaning: “Repair the world.” This concept drove the congregation toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver status, but is also what persuaded it to stay on the urban campus. “Our decision to invest and expand on this site was a reflection of our dedication to revitalizing downtown Oakland,” says Geduldig.

“There were a lot of reasons to justify moving,” says Horton. “But, instead of saying ‘it’s too hard’ they proclaimed that they belonged to Oakland and Oakland belonged to them.”

Many become one

A joint venture, Horton and Harris brought myriad ideas to the table. A design utilizing a central “spine” to unify the facility was selected. It would demolish 8,700 square feet of existing administrative and classroom space and add 18,000 square feet broken into three “jewels” housing a chapel, administrative area, library, classrooms and gathering space.

The new three-story structure is wrapped in VMZinc Pigmento green roofing and wall cladding.

The spine runs the length of the site with entrances at both ends. All facilities of the campus are accessed from this passageway. “Everybody uses the same entrances and they intermingle as a result,” says Horton.  continued >>