B'nei-Akiva Centre & Synagogue 2011
Project Architect, Meir Krispin Unbuilt
Netivot is a growing development city, situated approximately half-way between Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva in Israel’s south. During the last decade the population of Netivot has grown enormously, due to natural growth as well as massive absorption of new immigrants. This population is made up of both secular and religious groups, including a large community of “Dati Leumi”, the Religious Nationalist Movement. Bnei Akiva is the youth arm of this movement.
Due to its expanding population Netivot has many new areas, including the neighbourhood of Kiryat Menachem. The Religious Nationalist community of this new and growing area are in need of a synagogue and community centre to service their spiritual, religious and community needs, including services for youth.
The proposed new Synagogue and Bnei Akiva Community Centre is located in the heart of Kiryat Menachem, within a complex of other educational and public buildings. The design of the new building consists of three activity centers which relate to the main services needed by the community:
1.Main Building (Multi-purpose Hall and Community Center)
3.Bnei Akiva Youth Center
The main concept behind the building was inspired by the words of Harav Kook, one of the Founders of the Religious Nationalist Movement, who wrote the following:
“He whose soul doesn’t wander in spaces, who doesn’t seek the light of goodness and truth with all of his heart, does not suffer from spiritual ruin, however he also doesn’t have self-made structures. He takes refuge in the shadows of natural structures, like the Rock Hyrax who finds shelter among the stones. But man, the one who has a human soul within, his spirit cannot dwell anywhere but within the structures which he builds with his constant and well-practised spiritual work”.
(Harav Kook “Orot Hakodesh” Book 2, p. 314)
Human beings need to build structures within which to seek and explore spirituality, however it is also the practice of consistent spiritual seeking which enables people to create and build such structures.
The design of the Synagogue and Bnei Akiva Community Centre building utilizes the shape of the cube, which is one of the most important symbols in Jewish Kabbalistic (mystical) thought. The “Sefer Hayetzira” (Book of Creation), an ancient Kabbalistic text, states that the world is built like a cube: The six faces of the cube represent six aspects of man’s experience of life; the three axes define three fundamental categories of being (existence, life and their union); and these aspects surround a single zero point in the centre. The Kabbalistic diagram of the “Tree of Life” is also a 2-dimensional representation of a 3-dimensional cube (see diagrams below). Furthermore the cube is the basis of the Magen David symbol. There are many layers of meaning in these concepts and there is no room for detailed discussion here, however the diagrams below provide some food for thought.
The design of the building integrates two cubes which interact and relate to each other through their axes. The first cube (the Synagogue) symbolises the human spirit, and the second cube (the Bnei Akiva Youth Centre) symbolises the spirit of the nation of Israel. The cube of the Synagogue is directed vertically; as a human being stands. It faces towards the North-East, towards Jerusalem. The cube of the Youth Centre is directed horizontally; as the land spreads out beneath us. It faces towards the North-West, towards Europe and the modern world. The Youth Centre also overlooks Kibbutz Saad, which was the first settlement established by the Religious Nationalist Movement in Israel, as well as over the landscape of “Eretz Grar” or “The Land of the Fathers”.
Main Building (Multi-Purpose Hall and Community Centre) (area 350 sqm):
The ground floor of this section comprises the main entrance to the building, a reception area, a multi-purpose hall for up to 150 people, administration offices and a protected area/bomb shelter. The hall contains a kitchen and is suited to cater to the many different activities of the community. The reception area acts as a central point from which visitors can be directed in one of two directions; either towards the Synagogue or the Youth Centre.
The second floor of this section comprises an open gallery for community activities as well as more administration offices and another bomb shelter. The second floor overlooks the main hall and can function as a separate gallery/women’s section for religious services held in the main hall. This section of the building is oriented towards the south, and the large wall of the main façade is also quite opaque. These features are designed to protect the building from heat and glare, as well as to project a shadow onto the open space between the other two sections of the building, creating a cool shaded courtyard area. It is important to note that being in the desert, Netivot is hot and dry for much of the year. Therefore integrating shade, indirect light and natural cooling meachanisms into building design is an important part of creating comfortable and usable public buildings in this region.
Synagogue (area 450 sqm):
The Synagogue is designed to contain 250 people on the ground floor, and a second floor/women’s gallery for 100 people. On the side there is also a small room to cater for Minyan prayers. The Synagogue features large windows which are oriented to fill the space with indirect light, creating a bright and well-lit atmosphere while preserving the coolness of the space.
Bnai Akiva Youth Center (area 300 sqm):
The first floor of this section comprises 1 large and 4 small activity rooms to cater for the needs of the youth. The second floor houses a Gishur room (mediation centre), as well as 2 large activity rooms which contain a library and resource centre.
The second floor is elevated above an outdoor courtyard, providing a shaded space to cater for Bnai Akiva assemblies and other outdoor activities.
Outdoor Area Surrounding the Building (area 1000 sqm):
The outdoor area includes public parking (which has already been designed and built by the Netivot City Council), as well as landscaped gardens and paved areas.