Great Park Synagogue

Great Park Synagogue

Project Name: Great Park Synagogue
Client: United Hebrew Congregation
Location: Glenhove Road, Oaklands
Date: 1998 - 2000
Size: 650 seats

Great Park Synagogue

Great Park Synagogue
The Great-Park Synagogue replaced the Wolmarans Street Shul in the Johannesburg CBD, when it closed in 1994 after 80 years. The new site is a park-like suburban locale close to the M1. Entrance to the sloping site is from road level, and a curved brick path winds around the building through the gardens.

The architecture is based on the Wolmarans Street Great Synagogue, which was itself modelled on the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Designed in collaboration with Julian Michaels Architects and MV3 Architects, the Great-Park Synagogue, although smaller than its muses, maintains much of the character of the Wolmarans Shul due to the design principles employed, as well as the use of many original fittings including the pews, chandeliers, menorahs, and bimah. However, Great-Park is a contemporary building which creates a harmonious legibility of heritage and current context.

The hexagonal shape of the Magen David is at the heart of the building’s geometry, and the six structural columns are placed one at each point of the star. Magnificent arches between columns create a visual framework for the 22 metre span dome, which sits on a circle of stained glass windows depicting themes of prayer atop a concrete ring beam.

The external skin of the structure is red facebrick with pronounced joints, reminiscent of the Wolmarans building, with a plain plastered collar extending to the top of the concrete drum. This white relief is drawn into the facebrick through external columns expressing the underlying structure. Punch-out windows in the collar together with the stained glass windows throw light into the internal gathering space. The striking copper dome is the crowning glory, and has weathered to a rich brown, typical of its Johannesburg location.

The architectural philosophy and design of the Synagogue is entwined with the spiritual life of the congregation.