Visu­al Arts

Beth Sholom Syn­a­gogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Mod­ern Reli­gious Architecture

Joseph M. Siry
  • From the Publisher
December 13, 2013

In a sub­urb just north of Philadel­phia stands Beth Sholom Syn­a­gogue, Frank Lloyd Wright’s only syn­a­gogue and among his finest reli­gious build­ings. Des­ig­nat­ed a Nation­al His­toric Land­mark in 2007, Beth Sholom was one of Wright’s last com­plet­ed projects, and for years it has been con­sid­ered one of his great­est masterpieces.

But its full sto­ry has nev­er been told. Beth Sholom Syn­a­gogue pro­vides the first in-depth look at the synagogue’s con­cep­tion and real­iza­tion in rela­tion to Wright’s oth­er reli­gious archi­tec­ture. Begin­ning with his ear­ly career at Adler and Sullivan’s archi­tec­tur­al firm in Chica­go and his design for Uni­ty Tem­ple and end­ing with the larg­er works com­plet­ed just before or soon after his death, Joseph M. Siry skill­ful­ly depicts Wright’s explo­ration of geo­met­ric forms and struc­tur­al tech­niques in cre­at­ing archi­tec­ture for wor­ship­ping com­mu­ni­ties. Siry also exam­ines Wright’s engage­ment with his clients, whose pri­or­i­ties stemmed from their denom­i­na­tion­al iden­ti­ty, and the effect this had on his designs — his client for Beth Sholom, Rab­bi Mor­timer Cohen, worked with Wright to anchor the build­ing in the tra­di­tions of Judaism even as it sym­bol­ized the faith’s con­tin­u­ing life in post­war Amer­i­ca. With each of his reli­gious projects, Wright con­sid­ered ques­tions of social his­to­ry and cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty as he advanced his pro­gram for an expres­sive, mod­ern Amer­i­can archi­tec­ture. His search to com­bine these agen­das cul­mi­nat­ed in Beth Sholom, where the inter­play of light, form, and space cre­ate a stun­ning and inspir­ing place of wor­ship.

Filled with over three hun­dred illus­tra­tions, this remark­able book takes us deep inside the synagogue’s design, con­struc­tion, and recep­tion to bring us an illu­mi­nat­ing por­trait of the crown­ing achieve­ment of this impor­tant aspect of Wright’s career.

Discussion Questions