Tifereth Israel Synagogue Renovation

Location
Des Moines, Iowa
Year
2011
Size
20,000 SF

Client
Tifereth Israel Synagogue Building Committee

Project Team
Tim Hickman
Leah Rudolphi

Tifereth Israel Synagogue Renovation – Substance Architecture
Tifereth Israel Synagogue Renovation – Substance Architecture

Tifereth Israel Synagogue Renovation

The Tifereth Israel Synagogue faced a multifaceted dilemma. Their congregation had diminished over time, leading to an abundance of unused space. Yet, every brick and beam echoed the collective memory of its members. Torn between the need to reduce its physical footprint and the emotional ties to the old sanctuary, the challenge was not just architectural but also deeply personal. 

The task at hand was not just to renovate but to evoke emotions, to help the congregation realize that tearing down some parts of the beloved building would eventually lead to a larger win. In many ways, the unlikely decision to tear down the old sanctuary was one of the project's most defining moments.

The solution to breathe new life into a less-significant portion of the building wasn't about mere construction. It was about connection. By introducing two glass screens as a visual front, a subtle yet transformative design decision was made. The objective? To make the highest quality construction section—the 1960s portion—feel just as significant as the other parts, ensuring the congregation felt at home in a space reimagined.

Location
Des Moines, Iowa
Year
2011
Size
20,000 SF

Client
Tifereth Israel Synagogue Building Committee

Project Team
Tim Hickman
Leah Rudolphi

The Journey of Acceptance and Innovation

In many ways, the decision to tear down the old sanctuary was one of the project's most defining moments. There was significant meaning in both the old sanctuary and the school. Yet, the 1960s section was often overlooked, despite its construction quality. The task at hand was not just to renovate but to evoke emotions, to help the congregation realize that tearing down some parts would eventually lead to a larger win.

Commitment and Understanding - A Year of Planning

It wasn't an overnight decision. A year went into planning, ensuring every voice was heard, and every sentiment considered. Substance Architecture’s process is deeply rooted in understanding and empathy. This project showcased our commitment to spend time to ensure everyone felt valued, understood, and seen. The final design emerged as a blend of collective vision and architectural expertise.

Tifereth Israel Synagogue was treading the fine line between preserving the past and ushering in the future, as the project navigated emotional landscapes and architectural challenges to evolve into a beacon of modern faith.

Building More than Walls

Architecture, in its true essence, is about forging connections—between spaces, between times, and most importantly, between people. Tifereth Israel Synagogue's transformation stands as a testament to this. The meticulous design process wasn't just about creating functional spaces but about weaving a tapestry of memories and hopes. By honoring the congregation's sentiments and ensuring every voice was heard, the renovated chapel became more than a building. It became a living, breathing entity—reflecting the collective heartbeat of its community.

Where Design Meets Soul

The new sanctuary includes all the features of a traditional synagogue, preserving the old while also embracing the new. The original Eternal Light now guards a new and modern multi-layered cedar-planked Ark and removable Bimah. The reimagined Ark houses the original Torah scrolls, accessible via sliding panel doors featuring the original Ark cabinet hardware. This contemporary solution allows for the Ark to be closed and the table and stage removed, transforming the sanctuary from a worship space to a large multi-purpose event space while still honoring their sense of community and tradition.

“I think the most powerful part of the project was engaging with this client. The ultimate challenge was to help the congregation accept the change as a positive rather than harboring guilt over not continuing to use the previous space.”

Tim Hickman, Architect & Principal, Substance Architecture

Connection and Community

The new façade created by removing the old sanctuary now serves as the primary face of the building. It features two exterior courtyards screened by 10-foot-high laminated glass panels with geometric patterns taken from the old chapel plaster work alongside text in both Hebrew and English depicting prayers and phrases special to the synagogue congregation and recognizable to the greater religious community as a whole. Adjacent to the worship space, one courtyard provides a flexible events space for outdoor worship, celebrations, and banquets. Translucent panels allow for views of the landscape. The second, more private, courtyard is intended for meditation and reflection. Here, opaque panels create a private exterior space screened from public view and provide a tranquil contemplative experience.

Tifereth Israel Synagogue Renovation – Substance Architecture

Floor plan showing the 1960s portion of the building which was retained

Tifereth Israel Synagogue Renovation – Substance Architecture

Isometric diagram of original building and renovated portion

Tifereth Israel Synagogue Renovation – Substance Architecture

Axonometric diagram of exterior courtyards

Tifereth Israel Synagogue Renovation – Substance Architecture

Ark diagram

Consultants

MEPT Engineer
MODUS Engineering
Structural Engineer
KPFF (formerly Saul Engineering)
Landscape Architect
Confluence
Graphic Design
Conyers Design, Inc.
Glass Contractor
Clark Glass
Custom Millwork
RCS Millwork
Glass Panel Manufacturer
Viracon
General Contractor
Ball Team, LLC

Awards

2015 Award of Merit - Design Built - Confluence and Substance Architecture
ASLA - Central States Region
2014 Architectural Design Detail
Builders Choice/Custom Home
2012 Merit Award Design of Excellence
American Institute of Architects - Iowa Chapter
2012 Design Award-Religious Arts
Faith & Form/IFRRA
2012 Design of Excellence - Confluence and Substance Architecture
ASLA - Iowa Chapter

Publications

September 2014 Builders Choice
Winter 2013 Iowa Architect
Winter 2012 Faith & Form

Photography by Paul Crosby Architectural Photography