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Temple Sinai

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1961, Isidor Richmond and Carry Goldberg. 30 Hagen Ave.

Architecturally this is interesting as a period piece of 1960s modernism in poured concrete and white brick. Among the most conspicuous hallmarks of its time is its boomerang-shaped massing, which partakes of a 1950s and 1960s quest for a more “organic” approach designed to mitigate the flat planes and sharp angles preferred in earlier modernism. Its overall shape doubtless owes something to the similarly shaped auditorium at the base of the United Nations Building (1947–1950) in New York. The boomerang shape “floats”—in the then current terminology—off a recessed basement. The sloping site is excavated so as to separate the building mass from its approach drive by a dry moat, necessitating a vestibule-bridge and enhancing the floating quality of the building. So do the three curved planes projecting bannerlike off the wall on pipe supports to shade the tall window triplet which lights the hall of worship. Another warped plane floats off the climactic end wall of the temple (appearing concave without, convex within). A surround of glass between it and the wall from which it projects provides a curved backdrop of radiance behind the sacred ark inside. At the opposite end of the boomerang, devoted to offices and adjunct activities, a long window slot disengages the ceiling plane from the wall. Below it, radically off-centered and slightly canted, raised aluminum letters in Futura type announce the synagogue's identity.

The interior is, with a significant exception, a well-preserved space of its period and style. It is a box, tall but very broad, expanding toward the front with a culminating platform stretched full width behind it, the sanctuary, with its Holy Ark, jutting as another, niched box, which its revelation outside leads us to expect. Changes of surface for walls, floor, and ceiling give the illusion that the box originates in large, primal planes lifted like stage flats in making a set. In front, flush-fitted, polished wood panels in a basketweave opposition of grain combine to make the climactic wall a super-plane, pierced by tiny rectangular windows in a punchcard scatter of pastel-colored light. Side walls are ruddy brick, randomly “hobnailed” with projecting units. Sliced by the slots of paired floor-to-ceiling windows, these cuts intensify the effect of planes making the box. Pews in polished wood and tan carpeting complete the autumnal hues of the setting, much favored in the 1960s as a “naturalistic” foil to the alleged starkness of earlier modernism. At the east end of the worship space the luminous, white-plastered sanctuary shatters this earthly palette, its light, from a mix of concealed natural and artificial sources, seeming otherworldly. The window slots ranged along the side walls were not always filled with pale yellow opaque glass. Once they enlivened the now somewhat bland interior with the changing color and allusive meanings of symbols and images in stained glass. Shortly after the temple's completion, however, vandals so thoroughly smashed the windows that only a single compartment from one of them could be salvaged. Now it adorns the entrance vestibule as a disquieting memento.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


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William H. Jordy et al., "Temple Sinai", [Cranston, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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