I practice architecture. Although if you ask my bosses I’m sure they'd tell you that I’m just very good at playing the part. It is true that as a kid I had an extensive Lego collection that caused my mother many stubbed toes. I raided local construction sites for discarded two by fours—they looked discarded anyway—that I would use to fasten a variety of Laugierian Primitive Huts. While I do not dress in all black and do not wear slender framed eye glasses, I certainly have my own tradeMarked (pun intended) fashion quirks. Ninety degree weather is hardly an obstacle for my Patagonia down vest. My dress socks—usually polka-dotted cycling socks—rarely match. I'd like to think that I could easily pick an architect out of a line-up based solely on their stylish oddities.
There are certainly commonalities inside and outside of my profession about what architects do and what defines us as a larger whole. I'm not sure how many times I’ve been told that I must be good at math. I'm not sure how many times I’ve read the terms, 'zeitgeist' and 'vis a vis.' However, the commonality that bridges both of these is the idea that we as architects design and construct spaces that are intended for use by a group of people, a society, and a culture. There is a strong argument to be made that architecture strives to engage and construct the thoughts, feelings, and cultural settings of its period of time.
When I tasked myself to identifying my favorite Jewish architects there was a sense of futility. It is much easier for me to understand architecture, and more specifically an architect through the lens of a period of time, a specific ideology or place. It's much easier to identify something as Scandinavian, Post-Modernist, or contemporary. It is much harder to understand what role heritage plays in a specific individual or work. However, as I began to dig and investigate I got the sense that there was an added amount of importance, pride, and/or brevity to these architects and their works. This is especially true for when they dealt with designing Jewish institutions. With that said, my aim is not to attempt to identify any specific similarities nor is it to identify anything specifically Jewish. This is simply an exercise about listing my favorite Jewish architects with the hopes that you, the reader, may discover for yourself what makes them important to you and to society.
My top 10 Jewish architects (in no particular order):
Frank Gehry (born Frank Goldberg):
Gehry is one of today's most famous architects. Winner of the Pritzker (architecture's most prestigious prize) and widely considered one of the most important contemporary architects, he changed his name early in his career at the behest of his wife to, presumably, avoid any anti-Semitic views.
My favorite work: DZ Bank in Berlin
One of Chicago's greatest architects. He later partnered with Louis Sullivan (another of Chicago's most famous architects) and changed the modern cityscape by using modern steel skeleton structures to express the lightness and openness of modern buildings. He was an important figure within the Chicago School of Architects.
My favorite work: Auditorium Building in Chicago
Meier is a Jewish American architect and winner of the Priztker Prize. He is best known for his pure white rational design style. Meier is the only Jewish architect to have designed and built a church for the Roman Catholic Church.
My favorite work: Jubilee Church in Rome
My favorite architect and arguably the greatest American architect. Kahn is famous for his monumental style of architecture with focuses on pure form and function. He was commissioned to rebuild the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem but sadly politics never allowed his design to be constructed.
My favorite work: The Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, TX
Libeskind is a contemporary American architect. He won the master plan competition to reconstruct the World Trade Center sites following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Among his many famous designs are his three Jewish museums in Copenhagen, Berlin, and recently San Francisco.
My favorite work: Jewish Museum in Berlin
Eisenman is a contemporary architect. He is best known for his fragmented work and as a great architectural theoretician. His design for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin created a lot of controversy for its stark and evocative expression.
My favorite work: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial) in Berlin
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (foreground) and DZ Bank (background)
Breuer is a famous Hungarian-born architect from the Bauhaus school of design. He is most famous for his furniture designs. While relocating to London in the 30s due to the rise of Nazi party in Germany, he was introduced to one of the world’s leading furniture manufacturers and able to complete and build his most famous chair, the long chair.
My favorite work: long chair
Safdie is a famous Canadian architect. He recently completed, The Kauffman Center, in Kansas City to much acclaim. He is best known for, at the ripe age of 24, winning a competition for the World's Fair in Montreal.
My favorite work: Habit 67 in Montreal
Mendelsohn was a famous German architect whose very expressive works challenged the highly rational and utilitarian works for his contemporaries.
My favorite work: Einstein Tower in Potsdam
Sharon was an Israeli architect who was integral in establishing architectural style in Israel. He studied under famous Bauhaus architect, Walter Gropius, and started the Bauhaus style of Tel Aviv.
My favorite work: Jerusalem Master Plan of 1950