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Singular and Definitive: Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

The clearly defined cube structure of the new Jewish community centre formulates a distinct component of Weinhof square in the historical centre of Ulm. The building, which also accommodates a synagogue, was handed over to the Jewish community on 2 December 2012 by ksg, 20 months after work first commenced. The inauguration speech was held by the Federal President of Germany, Joachim Gauck.

Architects: kister scheithauer gross architects and urban planners (ksg), Cologne
Location: Weinhof, D-89073 Ulm, Germany

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Synagogue, photograph: Christian Richters

In 2009, the Israelite Religious Community Wuerttemberg (IRGW) decided to build a new synagogue for its orthodox community in Ulm and initiated a competition in conjunction with the City of Ulm. The City provided a building site in the middle of Weinhof square, only a stone's throw away from the former synagogue destroyed in the Pogrom Night.

The jury selected the design submitted by ksg in January 2010. At the time, the head of Ulm's construction department, Alexander Wetzig, commented that the Cologne-based team had managed to enrich this highly sensitive site in the urban area of Ulm without a loss of its unique character.

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Photograph: Christian Richters

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Photograph: Christian Richters

The completed structure is lower and shorter than initially planned at the time of the competition. With a width of 24 m, a depth of 16 m and a height of 17 m, the cube is significantly lower than the historic Schwörhaus nearby. The large window with the Star of David pattern indicates the orientation to Jerusalem.

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Eastern side, photograph: Christian Richters

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Photograph: Christian Richters

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

With the Ulm Minster in the background, photograph: Christian Richters

Professor Susanne Gross describes the urban development concept as follows:

The synagogue and Jewish community centre are accommodated in a single structure. The location of the free-standing compact cube on the square is a result of history: the former synagogue, which was one of the buildings lining the street of the Weinhof, was destroyed during the Pogrom Night in 1938. After the Second World War, the gap was closed with a profane building and the synagogue lost its original location in the centre of Ulm. The construction of the current synagogue has opened up a new plot of land. As though the synagogue has taken one step forward from its original position, it has reclaimed its place on the Weinhof – as a detached building with no structural border.

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Site plan

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Historical site plan

All utilisations are incorporated in the smooth building structure: foyer, synagogue, Mikwe (ritual bath), assembly room, school and administration rooms, child day-care centre with a private inner courtyard, which is immediately above the space for worship.

The arrangement of the rooms is orthogonal. Only the alignment of the synagogue has been turned around the only free-standing support of the building, with its axis following a diagonal direction. The orientation to the south-east has a deeper religious meaning – it points exactly to the geographical position of Jerusalem, the spiritual and religious centre of Judaism.

The diagonal orientation of the sacred room also gives rise to the corner window, which uses the Star of David as a motif for its decorative lattice structure. Over 600 openings turn the synagogue into a generously illuminated space, with focus on the liturgical centrepiece, the Torah shrine. The characteristic perforations of the façade, created using a high-pressure water jet, frame the shrine on the inside and identify the synagogue from the outside.

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Photograph: Christian Richters

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Torah shrine and bimah, photograph: Christian Richters

The interior design of the synagogue is partly based on plans by ksg, such as the dodecagonal candle holder, symbolising the twelve tribes of Israel. Together with representatives of the IRGW , Rabbi Shneur Trebnik selected the seating and had the Torah shrine and bimah (an elevated podium with lectern for reading the Torah) made to order in Israel. The prayer room offers – including the 40 seats in the women's gallery – space for 125 people.

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

View of the Schwörhaus, photograph: Christian Richters

Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre in Ulm

Staircase, photograph: Christian Richters

Project participants

Client: Israelite Religious Community Wuerttemberg (IRGW K.d.ö.R.)
Users: Rabbi Shneur Trebnik, the orthodox community of Ulm
Project leader, artistic direction: Grzegorz Rybacki
Project management: nps Bauprojektmanagement GmbH, Ulm
General contractor: Matthäus Schmid Bauunternehmen GmbH & Co. KG, Baltringen

Structural analysis: Dr.-Ing. W. Naumann & Partner, Cologne
Thermogravimetric analysis: ZWP AG, Cologne
Acoustics: ISRW Dr.-Ing. Klapdor GmbH, Düsseldorf
Building physics: Ing.-Büro für Bauphysik Heinrichs, Cologne
Fire safety: BFT Cognos, Aachen

Project data

Competition: November 2009
Performance time: 2010-2012
Start of construction: March 2011
Completion: December 2012
Gross floor space: 1,980 m²
Performance phases: 1–4 plus artistic direction and master details
Construction cost: EUR 4.6 million

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