Substance Architecture

Tifereth Israel Synagogue

Des Moines, Iowa

The Tifereth Israel Synagogue remodel is a comprehensive renovation of approximately 20,000 square feet of interior space, as well as exterior courtyards and site work. The synagogue site originally consisted of a traditional chapel (circa 1930) and small school wing (circa 1950). Due to declining membership over the past 30 years (-60%), rapidly increasing utility costs, looming maintenance costs deferred over twenty years, and changing worship methodology, the congregation determined demolition and adaptive “rejuvenation” of the most modern wing would best equip future generations with a lasting, functional synagogue. Once the decision was made to remodel, the primary challenge became how to combine the spirit of a worship space within the practical needs of the multi-purpose wing built in 1969. The congregation wanted a modern worship facility to meet their needs, yet also desired a synagogue to speak to the Jewish and greater community as a whole. This remodel works, looks, and feels like it isn’t a “compromised solution” due to no other affordable option. Primary spaces in the remodeled core had to accommodate many uses. The original multi-purpose event space became a worship space in the east half of the room and a meeting/social space in the west half, expandable on either side for holy day worship or for large events. New dimmable compact fluorescent and LED lighting provides the capability to create different scenes according to programmatic requirements. Additional spaces in the synagogue are a classroom, youth lounge, staff offices, conference room, library, gift shop, and lobby/pre-event lounge. The remodeled building also features an updated, efficient mechanical system, efficient lighting, new roof, and many replaced windows. Monthly utility costs are now reduced more than 50% from corresponding monthly costs prior to the remodel.

The exterior of the main façade, along a major residential Des Moines boulevard, faced a multi-faceted challenge of “filling in the holes” left by the demolition of the old chapel while also creating a new image of the Synagogue to the community. A glass panel system provides a screen used to create two outdoor spaces and results in a new image for the synagogue along Polk Boulevard. The courtyard space is intended to be a more private outdoor room for the congregation. The event space, directly outside the social hall/sanctuary room, contains one panel printed with traditional Jewish phrases and words of celebration and gathering.

Photography by Paul Crosby Architectural Photography


Award of Merit-Design Built - Confluence and substance, 2015
ASLA - Central States Region

Architectural Design Detail, 2014
Builders Choice/Custom Home

Merit Award Design of Excellence, 2012
American Institute of Architects - Iowa Chapter

Design Award-Religious Arts, 2012
Faith & Form/IFRRA

Design of Excellence - Confluence and substance, 2012
ASLA - Iowa Chapter


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

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