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Jewish Identity in Architecture

Adolf Krischanitz: Neue Welt Schule, Wien, Österreich, 1992-1994

Adolf Krischanitz: Neue Welt Schule, Vienna, Austria, 1992-1994
© photo: Margherita Spiluttini

Can architecture give Jewish identity shape? The Jewish Museum Berlin takes a closer look at this question in its special exhibition "Jewish Identity in Contemporary Architecture" which opens on 3 March 2005. Focusing on seventeen buildings, it provides an international overview of architectural projects for Jewish institutions at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, among them designs and buildings which have attracted worldwide attention by architects such as Frank O. Gehry, Moshe Safdie, Mario Botta, and Daniel Libeskind. "Sukkah", Libeskind's design for the roofing of the courtyard at the Jewish Museum Berlin will be displayed for the first time at this exhibition.

The exhibition focuses on museums, synagogues, community centers, and schools in Europe, Israel, and the USA. Models, sketches, and photographs in colorfully designed cabinets put visitors on the trail of Jewish identity in contemporary architecture. A chronological overview of the most significant historical buildings - from the temple in Jerusalem to the Washington Holocaust Museum- displays models which continue to inspire architects today.

Building on Jewish Identity

Zvi Hecker, "The School as an Open Book" – model of the Heinz Galinski Jewish School Berlin, 1995
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

From the New Synagogue in Dresden, the Jewish Museum Berlin, through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem to Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale, Arizona, the buildings examined at the exhibition show a Jewish identity in the process of change. Building - for Jewish institutions it means building on Jewish identity at the same time. The reasons for this lie in the Jewish culture and religion as well as in the ruptures of Jewish history. The tension between the poles of continuing or reemerging Jewish life and the ever-present memory of the obliteration of Jewish culture and Jewish life through the Holocaust is reflected in the architecture.

Architecture as an Indication of New Self-Confidence

The building of Jewish institutions is also always an expression of the Jewish self-conception to the outside world. The implicitness with which commissioners and architects have publicly presented innovative building projects in recent years is evidence that Jewish self-assurance is gaining in strength again: Two generations after World War II, numerous Jewish communities are being revived. Particularly in Western Europe, Russian emigrants have added to the surge of new life in Jewish communities since the fall of the Iron Curtain - a development which is reflected not only in the form of forward-looking architectural projects but also in the choice of locations. Projects such as Zvi Hecker's fan-shaped community center in Duisburg or the Jewish center still under construction in Munich are prominent buildings in central city locations. At the turn of the millennium Jewish institutions have thus emerged from the shadows of the periphery.

Is There A "Jewish Avant-Garde"?

Since the 1990s and in the course of this development, buildings which have received worldwide attention have occasionally been referred to as "Jewish avant-garde". This term is vague in relation to the designers of these buildings as many Jewish architects such as Frank O. Gehry or Richard Meier have only recently started working at the request of Jewish institutions; while other architects such as Mario Botta or Will Bruder are not Jewish. At best the term is apt if it refers to buildings, the designs of which have been influenced by Jewish culture and religion, Jewish symbols and Hebrew script. Daniel Libeskind's design for the Jewish Museum in San Francisco developed from the outlines of the two Hebrew letters of the word "Chai" (life) is an impressive example.


04 March 2005 - 29 May 2005


Jewish Museum Berlin, Old Building, 1st floor


4 euros, reduced rate 2 euros
Kombiticket »BAUEN!« und Dauerausstellung 7 Euro, erm. 3,50 Euro

The exhibition was organized by the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam and curated by Angeli Sachs and Edward van Voolen. On its tour of Europe and Israel, the exhibition will also visit Vienna, Munich, London, and Tel Aviv. The 176-page catalogue in two languages (German/English) entitled "Jewish Identity in Contemporary Architecture" is published by Prestel Verlag.

An Overview of the Projects Documented at the Exhibition:

  • Ralph Appelbaum: Holocaust Museum, Houston, Texas, USA, 1996
  • Claus en Kaan: National Monument Kamp Vught, Netherlands, 2000-2002
  • Frank O. Gehry: The Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance - A Project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jerusalem, Israel 2000-2006
  • Daniel Libeskind: L'Chai'm: To Life. Jewish Museum San Francisco, California, USA, since 1998
  • Daniel Libeskind: Jewish Museum Berlin, Germany, 1998
  • Daniel Libeskind: "Sukkah" - a roofed courtyard fort the Jewish Museum Berlin, Germany, since 2004
  • Moshe Safdie: Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Jerusalem, Israel, since 1995
  • Mario Botta: The Cymbalista Synagogue and Jewish Heritage Center, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel 1996-1998
  • Will Bruder: Tempel Kol Ami, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA 1992-1994, 2002-2003
  • Zvi Hecker: Jewish Community Center, Duisburg, Germany, 1996-1999
  • Wandel Hoefer Lorch + Hirsch: New Synagogue Dresden, Germany 1997-2001
  • Wandel Hoefer Lorch + Hirsch: Jewish Center Jakobsplatz, Munich, Germany, since 2001
  • Zvi Hecker: The Heinz Galinski Jewish School, Berlin, Germany, 1990-1995
  • Adolf Krischanitz: Lauder Chabad Campus, Vienna, Austria, 1996-1999
  • Adolf Krischanitz, Helmut Federle: New World School, Vienna, Austria, 1991-1994
  • Al Mansfeld: Yavneh School, Ramat Alon, Haifa, Israel, since 1990
  • Mehrdad Yazdani: Sinai Temple Akiba Academy, Beverly Hills, California, USA, 1999

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