Location: Hanover
Client: Liberal Jüdische Gemeinde Hannover
Construction Period: 2008–2009
Work Phases: 1–8
Gross Floor Area: 2.700 m²

Community Center and Synagogue of the Liberal Jewish Parish in Hanover

New Jewish Life in former Christian Church

After two and a half years of planning and building, the new Community Center of the Liberal Jewish Parish “Etz Chaim – Tree of Life” was inaugurated on January 25th 2009. For the second time in Germany, a former Christian Church was converted into a Jewish Community Center and Synagogue. We were commissioned to transform the building ensemble of the Gustav-Adolf-Church, completed in 1968, into a modern Center of Jewish life in Hanover, respecting current energetic and economic requirements and aspects.

The ever growing parish, counting over 700 members, received a place of extraordinary and welcoming charm and positions itself easily into the surrounding image of the city and confident towards society. We managed to create an extraordinary sacred atmosphere. Proportions, material, light, and color scheme concentrate in a tension that intertwines tradition and modernity. The resulting aesthetic absolutely reflects the self-conception of the Jewish Parish.

Architectural and constructive explanation

The spatial and architectural formulation of the main religious room of the synagogue was of major importance during the planning process. The almost square room with 7 meter high ceilings received built-in cabinets that are lit from behind. In combination with the textile glass walls, they cover the room on three sites and focus on the adjoining space.

Slightly elevated by three steps, the room containing the Torah Shrine formulates the center of the religious place. The shrine has a golden aluminum door that is patterned with an ornament developed from the Star of David. This ornament is also found at the entrance gate presenting an axial series of rooms from the main gate to the Torah cabinet. The entire furnishing is accentuated by the ritual elements of the Menorah, Hanukiah, Bimah, Torah Curtain, and Eternal Light.

To achieve the sacred-mystic atmosphere within the synagogue, large glass plates were covered with 36 lengths of adhesive textiles. The 35cm distance between the walls and the surface is equipped with LED lights that can be dimmed as needed. The textile surface refracts the light and bathes the room in a velvety, infinite atmosphere. Spatial dimensions and borders disappear; the ceiling seems to float above the room.

The former gallery of the church was repurposed into a two-storey library and presents the highlight of the conversion. The walls, reaching up to 5 meters, are covered with bookshelves. The 80 square meters reading room has a second level that enables the simple access to the approximately 10,000 books of the library.

A café in the patio of the Community Center, a large event hall, offices and special rooms for the youth as well as the Jewish nursery “Tamar” and the janitor’s apartment complete the complex.

The entire design of the ensemble is led by a simple leitmotif: plain white plastered walls, dark natural stone or linoleum floors reduce the respective room to itself ­– a reserved but characteristic style that emphasizes community life and its people. Doors and windows contrast with an anthracite black color and create movement.

The annually celebrated “Feast of Tabernacles” takes place in the patio plastered with black and white paving. The existing 40 year old chestnut tree was carefully integrated into the outdoor design.