by Anmol AhujaMay 31, 2021
Architect Shohei Shigematsu-led New York office of architectural firm OMA has realised their first religious commission and the first cultural building in California – the Audrey Irmas Pavilion. A cultural extension of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple – the oldest Jewish congregation in Los Angeles – the 55,000 sqft pavilion, as per Shigematsu, is designed as 'a platform to reinstate the importance of gathering, exchange and communal spirit'.
Commissioned to OMA through a competition in 2015, the project is an endeavour resulting from a $30 million contribution – the largest single donations to a temple in the United States – by its eponymous lead donor who is also a life-long member of the Jewish congregation.
Located on the Wilshire Boulevard, the pavilion gives form to a courtyard space separating it from the 1929 Byzantine-Revival temple. Sloping away from the latter on its west side, the parallelogram form of the pavilion has been visualised as an archetypal box that responds to its historic context. 1230 hexagonal panels made of glass fibre reinforced concrete (GRFC) complemented by sporadic inserts of rectangular glass openings form a beautiful geometric composition on the building’s sloped outer skin. The intervention, as per OMA, take cues from the temple’s domed interiors. “The tonality and materiality resonate with the textures of the existing temple and campus while enhancing interior moments of colour throughout the pavilion. The seemingly neutral color of the façade is enhanced by its texture, changing in tone depending on the time of day and the orientation of individual panels’ ridges," explains the firm in an official press release.
The architecture comprises three distinct gathering spaces – a main event area, a chapel and terrace, and a sunken garden – stacked one over the other and featuring interconnected zones. The arrangement of the blocks captures strategic vantage points through the building while the interlocked matrix of spaces gives way to a series of openings that let natural light within.
Elaborating the spatial layouy of Audrey Irmas Pavilion, Shigematsu says in the press release, “We assembled a constellation of spaces, distinct in form, scale, and aura—an extruded vault enveloped in wood establishes a multi-functional, central gathering space and connective spine; a trapezoidal void draws tones from the temple dome and frames its arched, stained-glass windows; and a circular sunken garden provides an oasis and passage to a roof terrace overlooking LA. Three interconnected voids make the solid form of the pavilion strategically yet surprisingly porous, engaging the campus and the city.”
At the ground level, the main event space echoes the configuration of the temple dome by lowering the arc and extruding it north across the site to connect Wilshire Boulevard to the school courtyard. In its full length, the vaulted, column-free expanse has the capacity to host diverse programs such as banquets, markets, conventions, performances, and art events. On the second level is a more intimate chapel and outdoor terrace. The trapezoidal room and terrace face west, framing the arched stained-glass windows of the historic temple. A third void is a sunken garden that connects smaller meeting rooms on the third floor to the rooftop event space with expansive views of Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign, and the mountains to the north.
OMA New York associate and member of the design team, Jake Forster, describes the pavilion as the ideal host for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple community, presenting a complex of interior and exterior spaces distributed over multiple levels. “After six years of collaborating with the temple, the design team is so proud to deliver a nimble infrastructure ready to meet the diverse community’s needs - spiritual and municipal, reflective and communal, flexible but unique,” he says.
Additionally, Rem Koolhaas of OMA has designed the mezuzah (a piece of parchment in a decorative case inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah) for each door frame within the pavilion. Speaking about its design, he says, “It is an unexpected religious object having to answer explicit religious edicts, laws and rules which made it totally fascinating for me and a very good lesson to have at some point in my life.”
While the design of the Audrey Irmas Pavilion was revealed in 2018, the building’s opening stands delayed due to the current gathering restrictions caused by COVID-19 pandemic.