Client: Holy Blossom Temple
Location: Toronto, ON, Canada
Completion date: 2020
Martin Davidson, Duncan Higgins
Artist: Parochet & Glass Panels of the Twelve Tribes of Israel
Sharon Epstein Textiles
Artist: Blown Glass Ner Tamid
Jeff Goodman Studio
Wood Design and Fabrication
The renewal of Holy Blossom Temple transforms a historic synagogue into a contemporary, integrated campus which connects a House of Worship, a House of Learning, and a new House of Gathering. Home to Toronto’s first Jewish congregation, the design and the execution of this renewal project required sensitivity, understanding, and innovation.
Designed in 1938 by Chapman and Oxley, Holy Blossom Temple was built in Romanesque Revival style and featured an 1100-seat sanctuary. A modernist addition by John B. Parkin Associates, in 1960, offered a House of Learning, yet caused an unintended maze-like experience.
Exploring the campus led to re-imagining—and transforming—its latent spaces. Positioned between the two historic buildings, a new light-filled atrium rises four floors, complete with a helical staircase and a vast skylight above. Here, architecture emerges by converting marginal into critical, defining a House of Gathering. This gesture—the third House—transforms the experience of the Temple, providing a place for celebratory and communal events akin to a living room. It also—physically and visually—connects the two existing buildings and the ancillary spaces, offering a comprehensive campus that is the Holy Blossom Temple today.
Framed by two different buildings, the renewal finds an architectural language which bridges the gap between the decorative and the austere. The integration of art was critical to develop an artistic thread in time and space from the 1938 Sanctuary to the new architecture.
Taking cues from the Sanctuary, the renewal showcases abstracted decoration to highlight moments of spiritual and community connection. The Jewish identity is reinforced through the placement of historical artifacts and texts (enclosed in embedded display cases), and the selection of materials (such as Jerusalem limestone on the floor). Overlooking the atrium, galleries on the second and third floors have passages from the Hebrew bible incised into their cantilevered steel guards. The Hebrew verses are also carved into the new front doors. And the colour blue—sacred in the Jewish faith—repeats to indicate sacred moments.
To mark the transition from public to sacred space, and from new to old, 12 glass panels inset within 12 monolithic panels of stone form a vestibule to the sanctuary. Vibrant coloured glass designed by Artist Sharon Epstein, illustrates the twelve tribes of Israel, while referencing the stained glass of the Sanctuary.
The design team collaborated with artists and craft-makers to design and introduce new elements that reference the existing architecture.
The red glass of the existing Ner Tamid inspired the use of the same hand-blown material for the new light in the Family Chapel. We worked with Blaise Campbell to create a singular vessel based on the basic pinched form of an olive oil lamp. This asymmetrical form is then hung on a custom retractable light armature which can be lifted into the ceiling when required.
An abstraction of the Star of David, seen in the centre of the Sanctuary’s original Rose Window, inspired the carved wood motif used throughout. With our millworker, MCM, we worked to find the right scale and depth of carving, before applying it to doors of the Family Chapel and the Ark within. The carved Ark doors were designed to reveal the Parochet behind.
The vibrant design of the Parochet began with an inspirational text from Rabbi Splansky. Artist Sharon Epstein used an iterative process of sketch review and fabric sampling to convey the essence of the text with strong composition and vivacious colours. A combination of printed velvet and hand stitching results in a powerful, but delicate textile.
The new central atrium prominently features a three-story, 610-square-foot Living Wall Biofilter. It incorporates over 600 plants and more than 20 species. Certain species were chosen for their significance in Jewish traditions (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives, dates, etc.). This renewal project, as a complete renovation, is targeting LEED Silver. Celebrating a rich architectural past, the result continues an ongoing story of Toronto’s first Jewish congregation through architecture and art. This thoughtful renewal reveals the significance of history, juxtaposing it with a contemporary vision that celebrates community and continuity.