Posted in projects on July 29, 2014 2:39 pm EDT

Of Kinship, Village and Virtue

An adapted office park transforms into a space for worship, community, education, and contemplation.

B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim Synagogue (BJBE) Deerfield, Illinois. Architect: Finegold Alexander Architects. Constructed by: Krusinski Construction Co.











Sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter Designer Today to stay up to date with all we do at Designer and with what's going on in the field of house of worship architecture.


TAGS: architecture, design,


By Carolyn Heinze

For 50 years, Finegold Alexander Architects based in Boston has adapted all manner of buildings for all manner of uses. But until recently, the firm never had to answer the question: How do you convert a 1980’s era office park into a synagogue?

The goal in adapting the exterior of the buildings was not to contrast with the rest of the office park, but to blend in as seamlessly as possible.

—Finegold Alexander Associates.

Not that the firm is a stranger to synagogue design; it has been involved in it for more than 20 years. Maurice Finegold, FAIA, principal, explains that central to these designs is an exploration of what a synagogue actually is: derived from Greek, “synagogue” means “assembly,” a focus on the community coming together. Finegold also turns to the historic Temple in Jerusalem, which is built around three courtyards—an outer courtyard, a middle courtyard, and an inner courtyard. “That sequence of courtyards has played a significant role in the development of our buildings,” he explains.

BJBE Synagogue Courtyard.

It was this design approach that paired Finegold Alexander with Reform Jewish Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim (BJBE) for its adaptive reuse of an office park in Deerfield, Ill. “In their RFP, they talked about the idea of a village center, and it really resonated with us, because a village center is an expansion of the community court concept, an interior gathering space we developed as a recognition of the historic context,” Finegold recounts. This space could be used for receptions, informal gatherings, charitable relief drives, and would feature computer hook-ups and a coffee bar. As the design advanced, Finegold relates that Rabbi Karen Kedar began referring to these spaces as “pockets of holiness.”

Active Passage: The Contemplation Room. Finegold Alexander Architects engaged design techniques and materials that help the space serve both reverent and communal purposes in the same breath.

More and less

The office park where BJBE is located is comprised of three L-shaped, interlocking pairs of six one-story buildings. BJBE bought three of the buildings. “It was clear that two of them had to be adapted and remodeled, and expanded in order to meet the principle program of worship and assembly, administration, a pre-school, as well as the village center concept,” Finegold explains. The third building, which is slightly separated from the other two, would be used as a school. “The two buildings became joined, like one big square donut around the courtyard. We had to demolish some of the low rise to create height for the worship space, but in the end we were able to revitalize these buildings and use their basic structure, and that became one of the guiding dimensional controls of the design.”  continued >>