How the Dutch practice SeARCH created what’s only the second synagogue in the Netherlands since WWII.

Religious buildings are among the more traditional constructions in our built environment. Yet how do you design such a building, when no such tradition exists? That was one part of the architectural challenge presented to Amsterdam’s SeARCH practice, when it was charged with creating a new synagogue for the Netherlands’ Progressive Jewish Community.

This synagogue was only the second built in the country since the Holocaust. 75 per cent of Dutch Jews were killed during World War II, and even prior to the Nazi occupation, synagogues in this part of Europe were modest places, built to downplay any exterior signs of their internal purpose.

The Jewish community in the Netherlands is a self-confident one, and so it was keen to display and celebrate its faith in this new building. The Progressive Jewish faith places only a few design stipulations on synagogue design, and this drove SeARCH to make a virtue of these basic themes, in a building that outwardly extols its faith.

Most notable among these is the large window which has been cut into either side of this long, low building. It is shaped to resemble a menorah or chanukiah, the seven-branched lamp stand. Alongside this, etched into the building’s exterior the concrete cladding, is a Star of David pattern – Judaism’s most recognizable symbol. Bricks salvaged from the group’s old synagogue have been included in this new building as a means of connecting the current building with its predecessor.

In all, it is a stunningly modern embodiment of ancient symbols – an apt demonstration of the way in which the oldest Abrahamic religion has found new life in this once-troubled corner of the world.

Progressive Jewish Congregation of Amsterdam
Amsterdam, NL
Iwan Baan, SeARCH
Gouden A.A.P. 2011 (Amsterdam Architecture Prize)