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20 West End Ave, New York, NY 10023
In the year 2010 I became a member of the building committee of the new Heschel School building in New York. Being that I was a parent at the school, I choose not to be the architect designing the building but instead to serve as the architect member on the committee overseeing the design and construction process. My only request was to design the school’s Beit Knesset (synagogue) and the art wall in the lobby.
Eighteen years earlier, during a visit to my parents’ house while being a student at the Cooper Union, I discovered a map in an archeological book drawn by Rashi, one of the most imaginative bible interpreters, who lived in France during the 13th Century. Rashi, who never visited the land of Israel, was inspired to draw this imaginary map by a sentence which describes the boundaries of the Negev, the southern part of promised land, and the journey of the Israelites in the desert to settle there.
The map, drawn in red as a complete abstraction of the place and the journey, carries with it the proportions of the golden section. It reminded me of a Mondrian painting and looked remarkably similar to the plans drawn by one of my favorite architects Giuseppe Terragni for his unrealized project of a museum to the poet Dante – The Danteum.
Investigating the map, I quickly realized that while the promised land was drawn as the only square the actual destination, The Negev was absent and could perhaps be formed by drawing imaginative diagonals between the intersections of the places the Israelites passed along their journey. This idea of a physical place formed by intersections of paths of its inhabitants – which could be manifested by mentally folding a map of a place – became the foundation for the design of the room. This process of forming deepened my understanding of how a community is formed and its potency to evolve.
The forms of three of the walls are made of panels of four different materials: fabric, wrapped acoustical panels, painted MDF panels, and powder coated metal panels. The different materials were chosen to provide the required acoustics for the room to also serve as a music classroom. The colorful forms of the carpet are derived from the forms of the folded map, and the lighting pattern on the ceiling follows the intersections that created those folds.
The main wall of the room faces east and includes the ark which holds the Torah books. The wall is made of folded powder coated white metal. The folds vary in depth and make the wall three dimensional. The front doors of the ark are two sliding doors made of onyx stone that form the only square in the room.
The ark – which is the only flat element of the wall – is conceived as a fountain, while the panels are seen as an artificial landscape inscribed with folded streams, allowing knowledge to flow in and out in a continuous process of learning. This metaphoric landscape is a constant reminder of the land of Israel and the practice of the theory of longings to the land that is fundamental to all forms of Judaism.
The triangle above the ark is the traditional eternal light, connected to the ark as its crown. It is a reference to the first letter in every parasha (section) of the Torah, which is traditionally crowned. The school was opened in September 2012, and on March 2013 the room was inaugurated with the Bar Mitzvah celebration of my second son.
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