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LGBT Synagogue in New York by ARO

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One week ago, as New Yorkers celebrated Pride Week, Architecture Research Office (ARO) announced its plans for a new synagogue, built for the 40-year-old LGBT religious institution Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. Formerly based in the West Village, in a hidden courtyard of West Beth, the congregation sought a more visible space that would raise its activism-heavy profile. The Cooper-Hewitt Design Award-winning firm led by Adam Yarinsky, Stephen Cassell and Kim Yao, with Cassell acting as principal on the project, helped CBST find 50 feet of street front for the new synagogue in a historic Cass Gilbert building on West 30th Street. Find out more of what's in store in our slideshow. 

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  Stephen Cassell explains that CBST's rabbi felt like their previous home was "like trying to find a 1970s lesbian bar--the synagogue was closeted." Now, as of the 2014 projected opening, the congregation will be located in a space designed with transparency, intimacy, and warmth.  The flexible interior spaces are meant to do double- and triple-duty for its community, one of the country's oldest and most influential lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) faith-based groups.

Cassell says of the impending visual presence for CBST: "One of the nice things we were able to do, since it's a modern synagogue, is interpret 'radical traditionalism.' Being able to put a modern design inside a traditional building alludes to how the [congregation] practices Judaism itself."
    Stephen Cassell explains that CBST's rabbi felt like their previous home was "like trying to find a 1970s lesbian bar--the synagogue was closeted." Now, as of the 2014 projected opening, the congregation will be located in a space designed with transparency, intimacy, and warmth. The flexible interior spaces are meant to do double- and triple-duty for its community, one of the country's oldest and most influential lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) faith-based groups. Cassell says of the impending visual presence for CBST: "One of the nice things we were able to do, since it's a modern synagogue, is interpret 'radical traditionalism.' Being able to put a modern design inside a traditional building alludes to how the [congregation] practices Judaism itself."
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  Inset: Cass Gilbert's rendering of the Assyrian-style tower at 130 West 30th Street in Manhattan. The archival photo shows the streetscape in 1930. According to the New York Times, the loft building was unusual not for its setback design, but "the ornamental program of Assyrian reliefs in polychrome terra cotta [that] make it one of the brightest spots in the area."
    Inset: Cass Gilbert's rendering of the Assyrian-style tower at 130 West 30th Street in Manhattan. The archival photo shows the streetscape in 1930. According to the New York Times, the loft building was unusual not for its setback design, but "the ornamental program of Assyrian reliefs in polychrome terra cotta [that] make it one of the brightest spots in the area."
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  The sanctuary is backed by a textured concrete wall, illuminated by skylights. The acute slope of the surface improves the room’s acoustics, which is a big factor for the "really musical congregation." Curved wood seating surrounds the ark and stage, creating a sense of warmth and inclusion. Cassell says, "The really fun part of this project was designing a sanctuary that feels like a sanctuary from the city. It's deeply moving for them and helps create a sense of community and spirituality."
    The sanctuary is backed by a textured concrete wall, illuminated by skylights. The acute slope of the surface improves the room’s acoustics, which is a big factor for the "really musical congregation." Curved wood seating surrounds the ark and stage, creating a sense of warmth and inclusion. Cassell says, "The really fun part of this project was designing a sanctuary that feels like a sanctuary from the city. It's deeply moving for them and helps create a sense of community and spirituality."
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  The space features a removable bimah which allows for flexibility from a sacred space to a hall for life-cycle events and concerts. In addition to a traditional memorial wall, the synagogue contains an AIDS memorial wall.
    The space features a removable bimah which allows for flexibility from a sacred space to a hall for life-cycle events and concerts. In addition to a traditional memorial wall, the synagogue contains an AIDS memorial wall.
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  Cassell explains that even at 17,000 square feet, the 300-member congregation could have used 25,000 square feet of space. Pictured here is the 16-foot-high lobby; all spaces are highly flexible in order to accommodate a community of worship, classes and social justice efforts as well as chorus rehearsals, weddings, and other special events.
    Cassell explains that even at 17,000 square feet, the 300-member congregation could have used 25,000 square feet of space. Pictured here is the 16-foot-high lobby; all spaces are highly flexible in order to accommodate a community of worship, classes and social justice efforts as well as chorus rehearsals, weddings, and other special events.
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  And just for fun, an advertisement for Atlantic Terra Cotta (at the time the largest architectural terra cotta supplier in the world), who furnished the remarkable material used for Cass Gilbert's 17-story tower, built in 1928. The building is now historically landmarked, which means that the exterior design will retain the hallmark ornamentation of Gilbert's facade.
    And just for fun, an advertisement for Atlantic Terra Cotta (at the time the largest architectural terra cotta supplier in the world), who furnished the remarkable material used for Cass Gilbert's 17-story tower, built in 1928. The building is now historically landmarked, which means that the exterior design will retain the hallmark ornamentation of Gilbert's facade.

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