“Old Synagogue” now “House of Jewish Culture”

A new Beginning.

Witten, February 2011. The “Old Synagogue” in Essen, dating back to the early 20th century, is one of the oldest free-standing synagogues in Europe and of enormous architectural significance. This unique cultural monument was built in 1913 from plans drawn up by Edmund Körner; it was torched during the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938; pur-chased by the city of Essen in 1959; and, having been put to various uses during the intervening years, has since 1980 served as a place of remembrance and historical-political documentation. After more than two years of restructuring, it was re-opened last summer and now pre-sents itself to visitors with a fresh underlying concept: it has become a “House of Jewish Culture”. Open, spacious and with a cheerful colour scheme instead of memorial grey. Five exhibition zones offer multi-facetted insights into Jewish life then and now. Thus this impressive architectural structure is once again open to the public as an intercul-tural meeting place.

Redesigning the Old Synagogue was an enormous architectural chal-lenge: both the planning stages and the execution of the conversion were full of surprises, because there were no plans of the building as built. The main objective was to significantly improve the quality of the building’s interior spaces. “Our aim was to create generous, flow-ing spaces which would emphasise its spaciousness and its brightness,” explains Lothar Jeromin, of LJA Essen, the firm of architects responsi-ble for planning and construction supervision. The convincing overall result was achieved by means of a sensitively balanced symbiosis of selected individual measures, which together embody its true value.

Designed for Openness

Today the Old Synagogue receives its visitors with open arms. Rising from the spacious, remodelled square, Edmund-Körner-Platz, the wide flight of steps arouses your interest and the transparent, open front doors invite you in to explore the interior. Here the generously laid out main hall awaits the visitor, with an unobstructed view right up to the dome. Gentle, self-assured apricot hues of many different shades and the contrapuntal lilac of the calotte create a cheerful atmosphere and underscore the desired sense of space. To differentiate adjacent areas, these have been discretely set off, using coloured borders to provide guidance and illustrate the thematic diversity.

The generous effect of the wide-open area shapes the overall space, and is further emphasised by the monolithic floors, which have been installed largely without any joints. A particularly high-quality mate-rial has been used for them: ARDEX PANDOMO® FloorPlus has been used to cover an area of some 1,200 square metres throughout the building. This cement-based levelling material can be individually dyed and produces smooth, clear-cut floors with a modern, minimalist look. The surfaces have a high-class feel, and its colour can be specifi-cally adjusted to match the existing interior design. All the floors above the ground floor therefore have a similar design throughout: “They provide a background of muted colours which reflects the col-ours of the individual rooms and only stands out confidently and inde-pendently in the seating steps and two stairwells,” as Jeromin explains the idea behind the design.

Since the public areas are strongly frequented, it was crucial that the floors should be extremely hard-wearing. ARDEX PANDOMO® Floor-Plus offered a solution that was both convincing and durable. The ma-terial is given a decisive “boost” by scattering a special type of sand on the freshly laid levelling substrate. This makes the floor even more resilient and harder, without impairing the calm and homogeneous look of the surface as a whole. At the same time, the material can be applied quickly and efficiently. And finally: a special finish gives the surface a distinctive, silky shine.

Hence the choice of a suitable material has contributed to a convincing overall result. The substantially higher numbers of visitors to the “Old Synagogue” are direct proof of the success of the various measures that have been implemented, as is the extremely positive resonance to the enhanced quality of the interior rooms. This deliberate new beginning for the old architectural masterpiece has brought it back to life as an open cultural monument.

Background: Information about the material and the floor-laying procedure

PANDOMO® is a modern system for designing the surfaces of floors, walls and ceilings, which was created by ARDEX and keeps open all options in architectural design. Within this system, PANDOMO® Floor stands for exclusive floor designs. A cementitious flooring whose unique design concept offers a virtually unlimited palette of patterns and colours to produce smooth, clear-cut floors with a modern, mini-malist look. Integrated, joint-free areas can be created which are as distinctive as the underlying creative idea. Being cement-based and offering a modern-day industrial look, they produce a high-class, clear-cut presence. The deliberate use of individual colours brings every floor to life and gives the room a characteristic look. Through a final treatment with oil-wax-based stone oil the floor surface achieves a silky shine.

In areas subject to heavy wear, PANDOMO® FloorPlus is recom-mended, whereby a special type of sand is scattered over the fresh lev-elling compound when the floor is installed. This makes the surface even harder and enhances the durability of the floor; and yet these sur-faces too have a calm, homogenous look overall. The material can be applied quickly and reassuringly efficiently by specialised companies.