dMFK wins planning for innovative synagogue building in Finchley, North London

de Metz Forbes Knight Architects (dMFK) has won planning permission for an innovative new synagogue and community building for a progressive Reform Jewish community in North London. Following the ECO Synagogues initiative, the community are aiming for a Passivhaus building, one of the first new religious buildings of it’s kind in the UK.

Fundamentally rethinking the real needs of a religious building today, along with prayer, the building provides an essential flexible framework for the wide range of activities undertaken in the community. The innovative design wraps a traditionally configured prayer hall with an outward facing flexible community-focused public areas and incorporates a kindergarten for 60 children around a sheltered first-floor roof garden. The building will provide education, support and pastoral care for elderly and young people, the disabled and disadvantaged groups, and will reach out to the wider community through its resources and facilities.

The 4m-high prayer hall and public foyer areas will feature ceilings of exposed cross-laminated timber beams in a structurally efficient, decorative three-dimensional triangular grid, designed with Engineers Webb Yates. A lantern in the prayer hall reflects this grid to articulate the symbol of Jewish identity, the Star of David.

As well as providing space for worship, a succah area and a sanctuary, the building for the Finchley Reform Synagogue will offer a range of community spaces including a library, closed meeting rooms and kitchen facilities, while pockets of flexible space for informal meetings, learning and socialising line the foyer. On the first floor, top-lit dual aspect kindergarten classrooms, open-plan office space and a series of carrels will surround a green roof garden and rain-protected play area.

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. With services design also by Webb Yates, the building will use low energy, passive cooling using below ground labyrinth technologies to cool the air into the building, avoiding the need for air conditioning.

Externally, the two storeys of the building will be articulated as separate bands – a pebble dashed lower floor, echoing its suburban context, punctured with large window openings and a first floor clad in vertical close-boarded timber providing a cross-rhythm of slot-like openings. dMFK are working with artists in the community to develop aspects of the detailed interior design, which will include finishes of rammed earth, exposed cross laminated timber and moments of finely designed joinery. The building will replace an ad hoc collection of buildings constructed in the 1970s.

Director Julian de Metz describes the design as ‘a hard working, low carbon community building that, through its architecture, balances worship and spirituality with highly practical community functions. We are lucky to be being pushed by this progressive community to go above and beyond current standards in making a low energy and ambitious building, and delighted that this project has been approved by London Borough of Barnet.’