by Michael J. Crosbie
When the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston, Illinois, set out to build a new synagogue, they found the goal of achieving LEED Platinum certification arising naturally from the spiritual context.
"The Torah teaches us that the earth does not belong to us, that we are but stewards of God's creation," says Rabbi Brant Rosen. "Building the most sustainable facility possible was for us a religious act."
Designed by Chicago architect Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, of Ross Barney Architects, the new synagogue succeeded in reaching Platinum, and did so with style. The new building is a composition of glassy walls revealing its interior, contrasting with a tight envelope of repurposed wood that gives it a warm character. It alludes to the old wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe, with a ceremonial portal of white Jerusalem stone symbolically linking it to Judaism's holiest city.
The project's outstanding sustainability has also earned it a spot among the 2009 Top Ten Green Projects named by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE), announced April 13.
The new synagogue is a tight cube in form, which contributes to its overall energy efficiency. It opens to the street with a wall of glass, revealing a graceful stair that ascends two floors, leading to a light-filled sanctuary. The exposed wood walls wrapping the building on three sides face the newly planted landscape, bonding the synagogue exterior with its parklike setting.
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