An architectural metamorphosis profoundly transforms the Jewish Theological Center in New York


That’s not to say the seminar wasn’t architecturally impressive. It was, and still is, defined by a tall brick tower rising above a grand arched entrance coupled with a Burning Bush sculpture by Rockefeller Center designer Lee Lawrie. Atlas. But it wasn’t a place designed for hanging out after class. The campus consisted of three interconnected wings with endless, drab hallways winding around a large courtyard (accessible by stairs) that served more as a decorative feature than a functional public space.

Thanks to Williams and Tsien, the Jewish Theological Seminary now has a host of new open and practical spaces, many of which are enlivened by large windows and skylights, brightly colored upholstery, wooden furniture light, off-white Jerusalem marble surfaces and tapestry-covered walls displaying images. sacred Jewish texts. There is a new airy entrance atrium, a new library, where rare books can be better displayed, a new designed residence hall with varied gathering spaces, new gardens with eclectic seating and programming options, and a new auditorium equipped for high quality live streaming. Outside, the architects broke up the monolithic red-brick campus by cladding new structures in textured silver-glazed bricks sourced from Utah.

A new landscaped rooftop plaza sits above the new atrium space.

The open qualities of the new architecture better reflect the school’s mission, according to Chancellor Shuly Schwartz. “We want to amplify an interpretative form of Judaism that is not siled,” she says. “We try to have a learning environment where there is room for art, music and performance.”

One of the architects’ most deft moves is the new 7,000-square-foot atrium, which wraps around two sides of a new courtyard, bathed in natural light from large picture windows and a skylight. rhomboid. It can be used for a host of activities, such as studying, socializing, and big events like school opening ceremonies. Although a significant amount of green space from the original courtyard has been sacrificed to accommodate this new space, much of it has been reclaimed with the new courtyard on the ground floor and another green space on the roof of the atrium, including a hard-covered outdoor seating area with moveable chairs and tables. (The two new courtyards, designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, are located alongside new indoor and outdoor seating areas.) The atrium, accessible through the building’s pre-existing entrance at 122nd Street and Broadway, also offers a much more expansive experience. efficient and inspiring access than the old long corridors of JTS.

“Until this renovation, when you walked into JTS, you walked into a bank of elevators,” says Schwartz, “Now you walk into a beautiful common area that leads to a library, our performance hall, and our dining room.”

Exterior of the new university residence
The school’s new residence hall, which gives the campus a needed sense of purpose, is clad in textured silver glazed bricks.

Perhaps the next biggest change was the demolition of the Old Library, a juggernaut built in the 1980s, and its replacement with a smaller, more efficient facility that includes both circulating collections and collections Judaica specials, which are housed in special air-conditioned rooms. The rooms and long tables that defined the old structure have been replaced by a series of alcoves, each defined by different color palettes and furniture, as well as important works of art and literature scattered in display cases . “We scaled down the library to make it more accessible,” explained Todd Williams, director of Todd Williams Billie Tsien Architects during a site visit, “The old library was open, but you felt lost in it – it had no soul.”

The demolition of the old library also made it possible to integrate into a single structure both the new library and a new five-story dormitory above it, filled with kitchens and gathering spaces. The new dorm also allowed JTS to close nearby dorms and move all undergraduate students to campus.

The new living facilities and wide variety of new public spaces have transformed life for the student body, according to Ilana Sandberg, director of Jewish life and rabbinical student at JTS who was having a chat with a friend in a cozy multi-purpose room (lined with sofas and the ubiquitous felt wall coverings) which serves as both a dining room and a living room. “We didn’t have gathering space before,” says Sandberg. “So there wasn’t that sense of community.”

It seems the updated campus architecture has sparked a whole new approach to learning and community here. “You get used to what you have, and that limits your imagination,” notes Chancellor Schwartz. “Somehow you don’t know how liberating something is until you’re able to have something entirely new.”

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