The design of Temple Beth Israel – Center for Jewish Life is a testament to the value of bringing in Landscape Architects early in the design process. Over the course of several community meetings, we were able to help distill the aspirational vision for a new building that would serve as ritual space, community home, and spiritual beacon to the Jews and larger community of Lane County. This project presented the unique challenge of integrating a large structure and parking area into a mature residential neighborhood. Other challenges included the creation of a space that projects spiritual rather than institutional values, and the design of entrances that reflect the values of being a warm and welcoming community.
Entrances into TBI are designed to create a processional experience that gradually draws visitors in from the secular exterior to the spiritual spaces within. We took advantage of the grade differentiation between the parking area and the building to enhance a sense of separation between the two areas. The parking area is divided into richly planted bays that boast a garden-like atmosphere. After leaving their cars, visitors either ascend to the main entrance along the grand staircase or by means of the internal elevator.
Universal access is a core value of the TBI community; a singular ramp allows everyone entering from the east side to follow a lushly planted walkway into the building. The four-season plantings are designed to heighten the sensory experience of entering a space apart; visitors slow their pace to notice the new colors while the scented plants prompt everyone to focus on breathing in, subconsciously invoking the connection between breath (nefesh) and soul (neshama). Those entering from the front gather on the balcony -- a protective space that overlooks Spencer's Butte -- before walking into the Temple. We designed an ellipse for the back entrance, rather than a straight drive through, so that students being dropped off are also afforded the opportunity to experience entering a special place.
The two interior courtyards, both visible from inside the building’s interior, have very different personalities and uses. The Sanctuary Court, only visible from and connected to the main Sanctuary, is a solitary space. Entirely enclosed, it has no visual connection to the secular world outside and emphasizes a vertical connection between sky and earth. A space of prayer and contemplation, the Sanctuary Court echoes the structure of orchard oases (or “pardes” in Hebrew, the root of the English word Paradise) of the Middle East with four channels emanating from Miriam's Well in the center. Plantings were chosen for their Biblical connotations, including almonds, figs, grapes, cypress, jasmine and gardenia. In contrast to the Sanctuary Court, the Temple Court is an extroverted place where many can gather; a large space used for social and ritual gatherings. This court looks out to the west and creates a sense of connection to the larger community and the setting of the sun. We took advantage of this warmer microclimate and planted hearty citrus, pomegranate and apple trees.
The site’s perimeter plantings were designed to minimize the incongruity of a large institutional presence within a residential context. We chose a residential palette of vegetation to match the scale and diversity of the mature gardens in this neighborhood. Plantings were layered to provide a visual screen; this was especially important so that headlights would not bother neighbors located at the base of the parking lot’s hill. Special thought was given to the plantings on the south side so that residents of the nearby nursing home could appreciate and share a sense of living in a garden. The fact that the budget for this project was quite modest became a blessing, since it inspired the community to come together to provide all of the labor for the planting. As such, the temple has become a site to which the entire congregation feels a personal stewardship.
The TBI Center for Jewish Life has achieved its vision of becoming a welcoming and inspiring presence in both its neighborhood setting and the larger community, and its design and sensitivity to its context are paramount to its status as a valued neighborhood asset.More