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Approval for dMFK’s synagogue which ‘fundamentally rethinks’ religious building design

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Barnet Council has approved plans by de Metz Forbes Knight Architects (dMFK) for a new 1,200m² synagogue and community building for an established Reform Jewish community in north London

According to the practice, the two-storey scheme is a low-carbon ’fundamental rethinking’ of how a religious building works and will provide a ’flexible framework for a wide range of activities undertaken in the community’. The new Finchley Reform Synagogue in Fallow Court Avenue will replace an ad hoc collection of structures built since the 1970s.

The design by dMFK will wrap a traditionally laid-out prayer hall with a number of community-focused spaces and includes first floor offices and a kindergarten for 60 children next to a sheltered roof garden.

The 4m-high prayer hall and public foyer areas will feature ceilings of exposed cross-laminated timber beams in a three-dimensional triangular grid.

The practice said: ’A lantern in the prayer hall reflects this grid to articulate the symbol of Jewish identity, the Star of David, while the congregational seating below is arranged in the form of a pair of facing ellipses.’

As well as as is function as a place for worship and sanctuary, the building will include a community library, meeting rooms and kitchen facilities, and ’pockets of flexible space for informal meetings, learning and socialising’.

A spokesperson for dMFK added: ’The innovative design reflects the progressive attitude of Finchley Reform Synagogue, which seeks to enhance the spiritual lives of its congregation while also looking outward to the wider community. The building also adheres to the Jewish principles of tikkun olam (repair of the world) by sourcing materials taking into account life cycle, social and environmental impacts, and by minimising waste.’

The building will have a ’rough rendered’ façade on the ground floor while the first floor will be clad in vertical close-boarded timber. 

Work is expected to start on site in January 2020 and complete in summer 2021.

Main hall

Main hall

Comment: Julian de Metz

In designing new synagogues, we frequently get asked about security. Must religious buildings therefore be designed as fortresses?

The violent events in Christchurch, New Zealand, the recent attacks on mosques across the UK, and last October’s shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh will doubtless inform the design of new religious buildings. Yet these tragedies should not impede ambitions to express what contemporary religion is about today.

Finchley Reform Synagogue (FRS) is an inclusive and progressive community that have a rare opportunity to express their values in a new piece of architecture. They want a brave, uncompromising, sustainable building that is visibly welcoming and engaging, outward facing, distinctive and full of life. As with any modern religious community, their building is more than a place of prayer. It is a hard-working community centre balancing sacred space with practical community space. It is a kindergarten, a support centre for the vulnerable and elderly, a homeless shelter, an events space, and an inter-faith space.

When the local Bravanese Somali Mosque was destroyed in an arson attack in 2013, FRS opened up their current building to them as a prayer space. Since then, the relationship has gone well beyond sharing of space. The two communities now share social events and festivals, learning from each other. A strong contingent of this Muslim community turned out in support of the synagogue planning application at the committee meeting where it was approved in March 2019.

In our new design for the synagogue, dMFK has attempted to embody the core values of the faith, while taking into account the risks and dangers that the community faces in this volatile climate.

Moving away from a more traditional prayer hall/community hall/car park layout, our design for the prayer hall is wrapped with an over-sized foyer, which will serve as a flexible social space, and a buffer to the landscaped secure exterior.

The foyer will be used for education, socialising, events, exhibitions, meetings, and flexible working, and is generous and outward-facing.

While synagogues have historically had a quiet, defensive architecture, buildings like Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ award-winning Jewish Community Centre, JW3, have challenged this model. In this case, a gently secured boundary offers views through to a proud, fully glazed community centre open to all faiths, communicating warmth, and a willingness to engage.

A1000 proposed ground floor plan a1000

A1000 proposed ground floor plan a1000

Buildings with carefully specified and placed windows create natural surveillance and visual permeability, principles that are welcomed by organisations such as Secured by Design, Community Security Trust and the synagogue themselves. These principles help us to justify a visually permeable skin which communicates openness, allows the interior to breathe, and one that makes connections with the landscape.

Modern religious communities need to face the realities of designing in security in the same way any public building would

New build projects also offer the opportunity to quietly incorporate common sense in-built security measures; limiting points of entry, access control, natural and video surveillance, perimeter security, lighting, etc. In a way that enhances the architecture of the scheme.

Modern religious communities need to face the realities of designing in security in the same way that any public building would, but they must not appear fortified. Working with our clients in three different communities, we’re reminded of the meaningful work they are doing to communicate, integrate and promote understanding.

New religious buildings need to proudly reflect and enable these values while incorporating commonsense security.

Project data

Location Finchley, London
Type of project Synagogue
Client Finchley Reform Synagogue
Architect dMFK Architects
Landscape architect Spacehub
Planning consultant Metropolis
Structural engineer Webb Yates
M&E consultant Webb Yates
Quantity surveyor Trogal Griffin
CDM adviser Robert Martell
Lighting consultant Webb Yates
Main contractor TBC
Funding Community funded
Tender date October 2019
Start on site January 2020
Completion June 2021
Contract duration 18 months
Gross internal floor area 1,200m²
Form of contract Traditional
Annual CO2 emissions: 1.4kg/m²/year
Total cost TBC

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