American cities have become increasingly crowded with buildings that offer "more of the same" -- architectural additions that resemble the structures to which they are attached so much that it's nearly impossible to tell what is original and what has been added.
It can be far more difficult for an architect and client to design a building that grows out of its surroundings but contributes a new dimension.
That's what the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland has done with the design of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building, a $2.25 million history and education center for which ground will be broken tomorrow at Lloyd and Watson streets in East Baltimore.
Instead of mimicking the buildings on either side, the society's architects produced a design that draws from them to create a fresh composition.
In the process, they have created something of a first -- a Jewish heritage center that uses Jewish architectural traditions to house the art, artifacts and archives celebrating Jewish life in the region.
"No other Jewish museum has constructed a building that attempts to reach back into the past and sum up Jewish architecture and traditions in a modern classical idiom" the way this one will, says Bernard Fishman, executive director of the historical society.
RTC "We very much wanted a structure that would have its own identity and yet would reflect Jewish history, without being slavish about it," he says. "This is the only Jewish museum in the country that is building an addition that takes its inspiration from other historic Jewish buildings nearby."
The approach is entirely fitting for the society, which was founded in 1960 to restore the Lloyd Street Synagogue at 11 Lloyd St. and is now part of the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Its director has been planning the addition for the past three years to increase the society's library, archives, offices and exhibition space.
Designed by Richter Cornbrooks Gribble of Baltimore, the 12,000-square-foot building has been touted as the nation's "largest and most advanced facility for the study, understanding and appreciation of regional American Jewish history."
It will rise between two historic landmarks that are part of the society's campus -- the Lloyd Street Synagogue and the synagogue at 27 Lloyd St. that houses the B'nai Israel Congregation. A third building, a two-level structure that serves as the society's research and administrative center and museum, opened in 1987.
When complete in late 1997 at 15 Lloyd St., the expansion will contain a 2,000-square-foot exhibition gallery, expanded library, visitor orientation center, museum shop, entrance court, staff offices and more than 4,000 square feet of new storage and processing space for the growing collection of documents and photographs. Henry H. Lewis Contractors Inc. of Owings Mills is the contractor.
Jonathan Fishman, director of architecture for RCG (and no relation to the society's director), says the addition was a challenge to design because of the strong presence of the flanking landmarks. What made the addition particularly difficult to compose, he says, is that the neighboring structures are very different from each other.
Dating from 1845, the Lloyd Street Synagogue is one of the oldest in the nation. Designed by Robert Cary Long Jr. in a Greek Revival style, it was built in a period when classical architecture provided the inspiration for most American synagogues. The society restored it from 1962 to 1965 and now maintains it as a historic site and auditorium for public programs.
B'nai Israel, by contrast, was erected in 1876 as the first home of the Chizuk Amuno Congregation. Designed by Henry Bergee, it is a stellar example of Moorish Revival architecture, with heavy Gothic, Islamic and vernacular Baltimore elements.
Far more exuberant than the Lloyd Street Synagogue, B'nai Israel was created at a time when Jewish congregations looked to the exoticism of highly decorative buildings from the Near East for inspiration in the design of their houses of worship. The idea was to underscore the difference between Christian churches and Jewish synagogues by making a visual reference to the Near Eastern origins of Judaism. Mr. Fishman, the architect, says he wanted to create an addition that could provide a transition between the two older buildings, which are listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
"Part of our goal from the outset was to have the addition be a vehicle to make the three buildings read as one unified campus," he says. "As we got into it, it became an interesting architectural problem because B'nai Israel and the Lloyd Street Synagogue are of such different architectural traditions."
Begins with research