In 2002 our client approached us with a property in Green Point which was the old Reform Synagogue. The Synagogue was in a prime site on the up and coming Green Point Main Road. With a decreasing congregation and income, and the increasing value of the property it was becoming clear that their site could give them the money that they urgently needed to keep surviving.
The site was subdivided and rezoned to allow for the development of a commercial and residential building fronting on Somerset Road, and the Synagogue was rebuilt at the back of the site and linked on to the existing community building.
The massing of the front half the front building took its lead from the surrounding context – that being a very clear profile of 2 storey buildings along the front of Somerset Road, and only did the higher part of the building start further in – so the scale of the street frontage was kept intact.
The ground and first floors are dedicated to retail and the remainder of the building comprises 41 apartments. Some of the apartments are single level 1, 2 and 3 bedrooms, and the other apartments are 2 bedroom duplex apartments. This came about in an effort not to waste valuable space on many external corridors – a common side effect of residential apartment blocks. In order to avoid this only every 2nd floor received a corridor, while the alternative floors cantilevered over the corridors and became bedrooms. This also enabled the corridors to go past kitchens and dining rooms instead of the more private bedrooms.
The synagogue was a simple hall which attached on to the existing community centre. The hall is designed so as to allow for flexibility of the space. The nature of synagogues is that they only accommodate a few people for most of the time, but at certain celebrations and High Holy Days it needs to accommodate hundreds of people. The hall was therefore divided by a sliding folding acoustic partition in the middle, plus there is a mezzanine to accommodate more people if need be; and the hall opens out to a green courtyard which is a lovely secure area for children to play and where they can set out extra tables of food or erect their Sukkah (a temporary structure made of palm fronds for the Holy Day of Succot).
All in all this project is a truly mixed-use building which was as a result of a symbiotic relationship between commercial savvy and community involvement.