Ulm Synagogue by Kister Scheithauer Gross Architects and Urban Planners
In 2009, the Israelite Religious Community in Württemberg (IRGW) decided to build a new synagogue for its orthodox community in Ulm and, together with the city of Ulm, initiated a competition. The city placed the building site in the middle of the Weinhof, just a stone’s throw from the former synagogue, which was destroyed during Kristallnacht.
“The team from Cologne succeeded in enriching this highly sensitive location in the city of Ulm, without detracting from its unique character,” said the city’s head of construction, Alexander Wetzig, following the jury’s decision in January 2010.
In the completed build, the cuboid is lower and shorter than initially planned during the competition. It is now 24 meters wide, 16 deep and at 17 meters high, much lower than the nearby Schwörhaus.
“The synagogue and the Jewish community centre are included in one single structure. The compact cuboid is free standing in the square. This position is historical: in the Kristallnacht. in 1938, the former synagogue, which was enclosed in a road side development, was destroyed. After World War II, a secular building was constructed in the space. The synagogue and the Jewish community lost its ancestral place in the centre of Ulm. The construction of the current synagogue has opened a new site, in the middle of the square. It is as though the synagogue has taken a step forward from its former position, it has reclaimed its location. With no constructed borders, it stands abrupt and solitary on the Weinhof,” explains Prof. Susanne Gross regarding the urban building concept.
All the spaces of the community centre and the synagogue are joined in the smooth structure: foyer, synagogue, Mikvah (ritual bath), meeting hall, school and administrative rooms as well as the child day care centre with an enclosed outdoor playing area, which is directly above the sacral room.
The rooms are arranged orthogonally. Only the synagogue follows the line of the only, free-standing support in the building, in a diagonal direction. The direction facing south-east has an overlying religious meaning behind it: its geographical direction is directly towards Jerusalem, the spiritual and religious centre of Judaism.
The diagonal room layout creates a corner window in the sacral room, which plays with a pattern of the Star of David as a space framework. With 600 openings, the synagogue is illuminated from many points, with the focal point being the liturgical centrepiece; the Torah shrine. The perforations in the façade created with a high-pressure water jet, illuminate the shrine inside and project the idea of the synagogue outwards.
The interior fittings of the synagogue are partially based on ksg plans, such as the dodecagon holder, a symbol for the twelve lines of the people of Israel. Rabbi Shneur Trebnik, together with the IRGW representatives, selected the seating and ordered the construction of the Torah shrine, including the bimah, a raised platform with a lectern, from which the Torah is dictated. All three elements were constructed in Israel.
The prayer room offers space for 125 people, including 40 spaces in the women’s gallery. The building was full to capacity during the opening on Sunday, December 2nd 2012. The 300 invited guests included former Jewish citizens of Ulm, who fled during World War II. Speeches were held by Federal President of Germany Joachim Gauck, Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg Winfried Kretschmann, the President of Central Council of Jews in Germany Dieter Graumann and Israel’s ambassador to Germany Yacov Hadas-Handelsman.
Architects: Kister Scheithauer Gross Architects And Urban Planners
Location: Weinhof, Leipheim, Germany
Design/responsible partner: Prof. Susanne Gross
Project manager, artistic director: Grzegorz Rybacki
Design Team: Fritz Keuten, Matthes Langhinrichs, Stefan Schwarz, Paul Youk
Client: Israelite Religious Community of Württemberg statutory corporation
Area: 1,980 sqm
Photographs: Christian Richters