Beth Sholom / Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects

Architects: Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects
Location: , CA, USA
Client: Congregation Beth Sholom
Project team: Stanley Saitowitz, Neil Kaye, Markus Bischoff, John Winder, Derrick Chan
Structural Engineering: Forell/Elsesser Engineers Inc.
Mechanical Engineering: Rumsey Engineers Inc.
Landscaping: Blasen Landscape Architecture
General Contractor: Overaa Construction
Constructed Area: 2,694 sqm
Budget: US $11,933,000
Project year: 2008
Photographs: Rien van Rijthoven & Bruce Damonte

The site is at the intersection of Park Presidio and Clement Street. An early plan established a pair of religious structures as gateposts along this boulevard. One is the strong presence of the neo-classical Christian Science Church. The other is congregation Beth Sholom.

A plinth is established. This contains the daily chapel, meditation space, library, offices and meeting rooms. On this plinth two buildings are placed forming a courtyard. One is the masonry sanctuary, a vessel floating in air, the other a radiant cube housing the social hall.

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The entry sequence establishes the distinction of a sacred place through passage. It is a circular journey of turning and rising and turning. The point of arrival is the courtyard. From here all the elements of the complex are accessed.

The design for the sanctuary begins from the inside with the creation of a sacred room, a space in the round, focussed on the central Bimah from where the services are conducted. A slice of sky in the ceiling turns into the eternal light above the Ark on the Eastern Wall. A shadow menorah animates the wall tracing the movement of the sun through the day and illuminated at night. All light enters the room from above with views of the sky creating a sense of sanctity and remove in the midst of the noise and bustle of the city. The walls and ceiling floating above are connected with light.

The essential aspect of Conservative Judaism is that women and men participate equally in the liturgy. The Orthodox Jewish Tradition of women separated in a balcony or by a curtain is eliminated. The room is a vessel focussing worshipers in a single community centered on the Bimah.

The expression of this interior is the exterior of the building. The exterior also remembers the Western Wall in Jerusalem, using the color and form of the stones of the ancient temple.

The second building, sheathed in zinc, contains the social hall, which opens to the court. It marks the corner with a thin tower like slice. This building, in contrast to the masonry sanctuary, is reflective and light.

Cite: "Beth Sholom / Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects" 29 Jun 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 May 2015. <>
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  • bruce

    Ship design

  • joninberlin

    I question the overall composition of the building but admit that I don’t have enough insight to fairly judge the project.

    However, the “shadow menorah” effect (center image 5th row down) – a little too literal don’t you think?

  • Lucas Gray

    I’m not a big fan of this design. I designed a synagogue as my thesis project at school so feel I have some insight into the symbolism of the religion and its architectural requirements. I think this is just not a good piece of architecture. I mean the giant half circle is so heavy and dominating that the whole facade composition becomes off balance. It also leaves some awkward spaces between the curve and adjacent building.

    The interior of the prayer room looks like a bad lecture hall at a university with the plush folding seats and tan walls. It doesn’t make a place that I would want to spend a my Friday evenings and Saturday mornings nor a place that evokes a feeling of being close to god.

    I know many of you hate comments like this but…this is just a terribly ugly design. I can’t imagine sitting down and drawing this and thinking it is a good idea. I also can’t imagine why the congregation would approve this design.

    • Joe Shmoe

      I agree with you that the design has many flaws, but I have been to this synagogue many times and it is actually much nicer than these pictures convey. My only complaint would be that because of the ark shape of the sanctuary, the stairs get steeper as they go up, making for a weird and unsafe walking experience. I am young and in shape yet I seem to fall every time i try to walk up those stairs.

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  • Phil

    agree with Lucas, too heavy top, too small base, the proportion for me it’s just not right.

  • David Basulto [tricky]

    I think it shows the “image” of the institution it holds, without being figurative. In that way, reminds me of Kahn’s thoughts on institutions.

    Great work Stanley!

  • WA

    I sometimes wonder about the function of “literal” elements in work. It’s not in your face like sculptural columns, it is incorporated into the architecture itself; the reference to a menorah is hardly more than a passing reminder; after a first notice I imagine this element would be easily forgot, caught up with the atmosphere of the hall. But their is nothing wrong with literal, esp. if it doesn’t take away from the architecture, so to speak. It seems most religious buildings smack of these straightforward references. Albeit this one is somewhat overpowered by the one reference. When I first saw it I thought Kahn, too. I like the monumentality of the form, the “awkward” spaces (light) it creates between the buildings – though this might not be intentional – and as a pedestrian under the jutting parts of the hall; and I think about how it might feel in the upper levels of the hall, knowing it was design to put air between you and the ground.

  • rdy4trvl

    Why in the world someone build this type of building in this type of neighborhood? I’m not a builder, architect, nor live in San Francisco – wouldn’t you want to build/design to fit in the environment….or maybe that’s the point. Any press is good press.

    • Joe Shmoe

      I have been to Beth Sholom many times, and it in fact fits in well with the neighborhood. It’s hard to describe, but if you look at pictures of the front of the building, the windows and roof line up with the surrounding houses, making for nice fusion.

  • David Basulto [tricky]


    The San Francisco architecture scene always goes back and forth on the debate of pushing new architectural concepts on the city. I have talked to a lot of people in San Francisco, and the general consensus is that this buildings do a favor to the city in that sense, becoming singular among the homogeneous (and finally boring) SF urban tissue. I think that if SFers have the final word on this aspect.

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  • Eileen Auerbach

    I pray in this synagogue every week and have never seen this light configuration. Imagine walking into a house of worship and seeing little but concrete walls. It is mostly bare of decoration of any kind. Even the Eternal Light is just a red lightbulb in a window box. For my taste, it’s too minimalist to be inspiring. Although the purple seating upholstery is beautiful. Thank G-d they finally fixed the uneven stair configuration. I kept waiting for someone to trip and tumble down to the bottom.