RENOVATION AND NEW CONSTRUCTION
Originally designed as a public middle school in the 1970’s, it’s not surprising that Kol Shofar, before the renovation, needed to be radically reconfigured to meet the present and future needs of its congregants. The result is a series of spaces in which the ineffable presence of the divine is marked by the changing play of light throughout the day and the seasons, paralleling the sequential reading of the scriptures over the course of a year.
The path to the synagogue begins with an ascent along a gracefully curved stairway, scattered with benches placed to provide rest, if need be, or to wait for friends. Its precise path was determined with an eye to retaining old oaks on the hillside, which frame the first glimpse of the synagogue entry. Once at the top, colored paving inscribed with local eucalyptus leaves forms the forecourt to the canopied entry. Mature olive trees, the ancient signifiers of hope and peace, dot the landscaped plaza. The canopy itself, flanked by engaged benches, provides a preview of the woodwork within, while illuminating the movement of the sun with pronounced shade patterns cast on adjacent walls and floor. The Canopy is defined by 12 cantilevered girders standing in for the 12 sons of Jacob who made up the tribes of Israel.
At the right-hand exterior wall of the entry is a mezuzah, custom-made to recall the curved shape of the sanctuary with its seven apertures. On the opposite wall is a push-panel that automatically opens the front door, allowing those in wheelchairs or without the strength to pull a door open, to enter in as dignified a manner as everyone else, even without assistance.
The Lobby itself is decorated with sunlight, evidence of Adonai’s presence, and not much else, beyond a simple set of drawers for holding kippot. One comes face to face for the first time with the slatted hemlock walls that everywhere on the site denote a sacred space. Simple lounge seating encourages the chatter of chance encounters and make of the foyer more than merely a place of transition. Yet from here, there are many paths. One is a ramp to the Beit Am along which are arrayed recognitions of the many families it takes to sustain a community such as Kol Shofar. Another is a stairway descending to the renovated classroom wing. A third leads to the realm of those who work to keep the synagogue well oiled and greased on a daily basis. Yet another provides an alternate route to three new classrooms and the pre-school wing. The final two paths start at a pair of glazed doors, adorned with Shofar-shaped handles, that lead into the inner sanctum of the sanctuary. Some sort of transformation takes place at these thresholds. The space on the other side is somehow quieter; one’s senses are heightened. There is only one way to go, yet the destination is out of view, hidden around a bend. Retrieving a tallis and siddur are the next steps in the unfurling procession from the profane of the parking lot to the sacred of the bima.
At the bottom of the gentle ramp, the Beit Knesset comes into full view. Though asymmetrical, the space seems comforting. Though the ceiling is high, a sense of intimacy is palpable. At the north is a Yartzheit Wall, honoring our predecessors. Gone are the little red lights; in their stead, each name is etched in light, glowing ethereally. At the south, seven pillars suggest the presence of our larger-than-life imahot and avot, as throughout history, they have lent support the Jewish people.
The highest point of the kippah-shaped dome marks neither the center of the room, nor the holiest spot. Rather, the space is centered under a Ring of Light suspended above the amud. Fixed and loose seating radiates out describing first a circle and then an egg. The circle accommodates attendance for most services. The egg expands to embrace the larger numbers who come for yontif and b’nai mitzvot. The space is dominated by five circles: two make up the chandelier, another caps the juncture of the 20 glue-lam beams, one is formed by the seating and a final one by the oculus from which the Ner Tamid springs. These five rings appear in ever-changing relationships with each other as one moves about the room. The dynamic of their dance and the perfect wholeness of their shape reinforce the strong sense of community which undergirds this congregation.
The Ner Tamid is always lit, but sheds no light by which to see. Rather, it scatters light, reflecting the wonder of the eternal a bit differently each second of each minute of each year. Its shards are a reminder of the broken vessels of Isaac Luria’s creation drash. It is our task to reassemble them through acts of tikkun olam:
With the shattering of the bowls
the divine sparks flew everywhere.
Some rushing back to Ein Sof,
some falling, falling,
trapped in the broken shards,
to become our world and us.
Though this is hard to believe,
the perfect world is all around us,
but broken into jagged pieces,
like a puzzle thrown to the floor,
the picture lost,
each piece without meaning
until someone puts them back together again.
We are that someone.
There is no one else.
We are the ones who can find the broken pieces,
remember how they fit together
and rejoin them.
And we call this repair of the world
–Excerpt from a poem by Naomi Newman REPAIR OF THE WORLD: A Kabbalistic creation story
Etched onto the shards are the letters of the SH’MA rising up, recalling the Eleh Ezkerah and Rabbi Akiba’s amazing vision. As he died a martyr’s death, wrapped in the Torah, chanting the Shema, he claimed the parchment was burning but the letters of Torah were flying free, never to be eradicated. These elusive letters can be seen floating gaily about the beit knesset on sunny days.
The aron hakodesh is embedded in a backdrop of diaphanous textile panels, an enormous parochet surrounding the scrolls. Each panel is the width of a person. As a group they suggest the presence of a minyan even when no one’s around. The illuminated texts, chosen by Rabbi Chai Levy for their recall of the significance of the cherubin above the original Holy of Holies, all refer to the theme of relationship and connectedness: that God’s Presence is found in the space between people. The seating in the round, with congregants facing one another, encountering one another, in joy and sadness, further exemplifies a central tenet of Kol Shofar’s culture: connectedness, being welcoming, and caring for one another and for the stranger.
The ark doors are an exact representation rendered in sand-blasted glass of an 18th century parochet made of velvet embroidered with metallic and silk threads by Jacob Koppel Gans in 1772-73. The original resides in the collection of the Jewish Museum, New York. The reinterpretation in Tiburon connects the congregation to its largely Ashkenazi roots.
Arcing above the congregation are the seven skylights of Creation: Six rectangular, much like one another, and one which is separate and differently organized, the light of Shabbat, which stands apart. It is from this Sabbath aperture, framed as the letter “shin” that the Eternal Light emanates. The skylights allow those in prayer to spy the first three stars in the evening sky, announcing the start of a new day.
BEIT AM AND SPACES FOR GATHERING
Beyond the Beit Knesset are spaces for gathering. The Beit Am foyer is defined by two ceremonial washbasins at which one pauses to recite the al n’tilat yadayim before proceeding to a meal. Decorating this space are the names of the Community Wall, which will expand and grow fuller every time another simcha is celebrated. This light-filled foyer has a coffee bar to encourage parents and others to hang out informally while children are at Beit Binah on Sunday mornings. Behind the buffet is a stroller storage and coat closet, as well as new fully accessible restrooms, with tallis hooks on the wall beside each doors.
On the far side of the Sanctuary are the Family Room and Bride’s Room. The Family Room, outfitted with lounge seating for adults and tiny tot furnishings and toys for children, is the place to retreat with children who are rambunctious during services. Providing a clear view of the bima and sound piped in, but not out, those tending children can remain on site, follow the service and attend to crying babies all at the same time.
The Beit Am itself is designed to serve many purposes. Even when divided in three, each of its broad wedges receives natural light. Banquets will be held here, as will yoga lessons and meditation sessions. Religious services for 200 or up to 600 can be accommodated in it. Yet, banquets for 250 with room for dancing will occupy the space just as comfortably. The lower walls are sheathed in ecoresin, a co-polyester recycled content product, so as to withstand the abuse of scraping chairs and tables. The upper walls and ceiling are made of sound absorptive panels to enhance the acoustic quality of the space. The flooring throughout is bamboo, a highly renewable natural material. High windows capture views of tree tops while screening out surrounding roads and houses. The entire glazed, eastern wall can be opened up to the natural world which beckons at the perimeter of the synagogue’s forecourt.
The Beit Am is served by the only commercial kosher kitchen in south Marin. The colors of the kitchen floors act as a visual cue to their use: a red floor for the meat kitchen and a white one for the milk side. Both have been outfitted for use by both congregants and caterers.
In fact, the colors and patterns both inside and out have been chosen for particular reasons. The exterior colors are a reflection of those found in the natural landscape of southern Marin. The plaster picks up the faint green of the hills as winter turns to spring, while the tawny gold is a near perfect match for the same hills as summer becomes fall. The green stain of the horizontal wood siding is close to that of the evergreens on site. Only the Jerusalem limestone refers to a distant land; one that many congregants nonetheless call home.
Herman Coliver Locus Architects
April Phillips Design Works, Landscape Architecture
David Malman Architectural Lighting Design
Greystone West Project Management
Ingraham deJesse Structural Engineers
Larry Wolff, Electrical Engineer
Decker Electrical Design-Build Contractor
George Lim, Mechanical Engineer
Bell Mechanical Design-Build Contractor
Charles Salter Associates Acoustic Engineers
Sandis Civil Engineers
Marshall Associates Kitchen Design
Garnett Studio Specialty Fabrications
Joyce Brothers Metal Art Works
Romieki Brothers Artisan Glass Carving
Cecilia Lindo Textile Fabricator
“GREEN” MATERIALS AND PRACTICES
GENERAL/ SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES
Specified Special Environmental Requirements that:
• Maximize inclusion of recycled content in materials, products and systems;
• Establish special practices to ensure Project Indoor Air Quality;
• Maximize use of recyclable and reusable packaging;
• Maximize use of durable products;
• Maximize use of products requiring low embodied energy.
SUSTAINABLE BUILDING MATERIALS
35% Fly Ash content in concrete mix, in lieu of cement (yearly production of cement in USA creates as much greenhouse gas as operating 22 million compact cars).
- Stone countertops
Natural, recyclable material, durable product.
Casework from FSC certified “well-managed” forests;
All finish carpentry, plywood, casework and wood doors have no added formaldehyde.
- Eco-Resin Wainscot in Beit Am
40% pre-consumer recycled resin;
All adhesives and sealants do not exceed VOC content proscribed by LEED; Packaging of the product is 100% recyclable.
- Mineral Fiber Cement Exterior Sheathing on Admin Pod & Sanctuary
Regional manufacturing facilities accommodate LEED requirement for Regional Materials
Durable material/ 15 year finish warranty reduces need for painting
- Windows and Storefronts
Thermal Break aluminum frames with insulated glass;
Glazing: Low E coating; U-value of 0.57 or better; SHGC 0.38 or better.
- Bamboo Flooring
Wood from FSC certified “well-managed” bamboo forests / rapidly renewable resource. Durable product; Recyclable product.
- Linoleum Flooring
Natural Material consisting of oxidized linseed oil and natural resins mixed with wood or cork-flour, limestone and pigments.
Carpet material bearing Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) “Green label”;
Low VOC emitting materials;
- Stretched Fabric Ceiling on Sanctuary
“Novawall” system uses 100% recyclable track system;
Acoustical core is 70% post consumer recycled product.
Materials with low VOC emissions, only
- Window and Skylight Shades
Solar Shades: non-PVC cloth.
“GREEN” FEATURES INCORPORATED IN THE BUILDING DESIGN
• Re-using more than 75% of the existing building walls, floors and roof (LEED Materials & Resources Credit 1.1).
• Addition equals only one third of the existing building area (LEED allows for it not to exceed existing building area 2 times).
• Day-lighting all interior spaces in the new addition and adding day-light via skylights to the Sanctuary under existing Dome;
• Adding clerestory windows around perimeter of the domed area/ providing daylight into corridors at ground floor;
• Adding day-light into existing Basement corridors via 4 large skylight wells- borrowed light in basement classrooms; reduce energy usage and increase livability;
• Automated Shades at skylights and windows reduce solar heat gain and increase energy efficiency.
• Energy-Efficient artificial lighting: most lighting is fluorescent with warm-color lamps and electronic ballasts for pleasant color rendering, quiet operation and no flickering. Low-efficiency incandescent lighting has been avoided, except where needed for dimming (in Beit Am and the ring chandelier in Sanctuary).
• Lighting controls: all lighting circuits in public areas are controlled by programmable timers, so interior lights are never left on all night. In not frequently used spaces occupancy sensors are used to turn on lights only when needed. • Light Pollution Reduction/ Dark-Sky Lighting: all skylights have automated coverings, so no light is emitted to the sky after dark. There are no up-lights at building or landscaping.
• Solar powered light fixture at the Monumental sign.
• Water-use Reduction: low-flow toilets; low flow lavatories.
• HVAC: ducted under-floor displacement ventilation system/ Superior indoor air quality/ effective removal of pollutants and odors.
• Thermal Controls by occupants allow for optimum comfort conditions.
• Energy savings by decreasing system pressure, resulting in reduction in fan energy.
• High- efficiency condensing boiler.
GREEN” FEATURES INCORPORATED IN THE SITE DESIGN
Using 7 Bay-Friendly Landscape principles:
• reduce waste (so less to the landfill),
• build healthy soil, • conserve water,
• create wildlife habitat,
• protect water & air quality,
• landscape locally,
• conserve energy…..
Water efficient native planting materials requiring low water usage:
• 3 out of 5 trees specified are native,
• 4 out of 8 shrubs are native,
• 5 out of 9 perennials/grasses are native.
• All other specified plants are drought tolerant and climate appropriate.
- All of the hillside areas planted for screening or erosion control incorporate native grasses and shrubs.
- The irrigation system design promotes water conservation and includes “smart controller” with water sensor for additional water conservation.
- Organics used for soil amendments and fertilizers as the preferred choice.
- Compost added to soil to increase nutrients. Reused existing soil on site.
- All green waste was saved on site and mulched for on-site mulch use.
- Pervious Paving used at Fire-lane.
- Plants were selected to provide wildlife habitat to enhance the wildlife corridor at edge of property.
- Landscape materials were locally sourced.
- Use of organic products for a reduction in pesticides and chemical fertilizers provides for less toxics and improves air and water quality.
- Tree canopies contribute to reduction of Heat Island effect.
- Light pollution reduction/ lighting design accommodates “Night sky”- site lighting uses low-glare fixtures to direct light downward and eliminate spill light across the property line.
Rain gardens and bio-swales filter storm-water runoff from parking lots and building roofs prior to draining into the city system and eventually the bay. Natural vegetation and soil-infiltration removes pollutants while promoting aquifer recharge. Storm water detention pond contains runoff from heavy storms and releases it slowly to prevent downstream flooding or erosion common in urban areas with significant development.
SUSTAINABLE CONSTRUCTION PRACTICES
- Construction Interior Air Quality Management Plan;
- SWPP (Storm Water Pollution Prevention) used to prevent sediments from polluting local waterways, reduce surface soil erosion and dust pollution.
- Existing trees were protected during construction.