“Valuable . . . Solomon presents a careful and very readable study of those designs, clearly connecting the congregation's religious and communal needs with Kahn's evolving vision. She... [continued in Reviews below]”—Tablet Magazine
The evolution of the postwar American synagogue illuminated through the plans for Louis Kahns unbuilt Mikveh Israel
In 1961, famed architect Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974) received a commission to design a new synagogue. His client was one of the oldest Sephardic Orthodox congregations in the United States: Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel. Due to the loss of financial backing, Kahn’s plans were never realized. Nevertheless, the haunting and imaginative schemes for Mikveh Israel remain among Kahn’s most revered designs.
Susan G. Solomon uses Kahn’s designs for Mikveh Israel as a lens through which to examine the transformation of the American synagogue from 1955 to 1970. She shows how Kahn wrestled with issues that challenged postwar Jewish institutions and evaluates his creative attempts to bridge modernism and Judaism. She argues that Kahn provided a fresh paradigm for synagogues, one that offered innovations in planning, decoration, and the incorporation of light and nature into building design.
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Reviews / Endorsements
"Valuable . . . Solomon presents a careful and very readable study of those designs, clearly connecting the congregation's religious and communal needs with Kahn's evolving vision. She demonstrates where Kahn's concepts of site, space, light, landscape, and ritual continued to develop, often outpacing the congregation's own ideas. In this, the book is an introduction to Kahn the architect and the idealist. Solomon also offers lengthy and informative excursions into post-World War II views of Jewish identity and community, and of the lively professional and public debate about the appropriate art and architecture for synagogues, and in a postscript muses on the state of contemporary synagogue design." —Tablet Magazine
"Louis I. Kahn's Jewish Architecture is hardly a mere tale of an unbuilt design. Solomon deftly uses the case of Mikveh Israel to reflect on the history of early postwar American synagogue architecture more broadly and on its significance for postwar American Jewish social aspirations. Solomon convincingly describes how American Jewish congregations (mostly Reform and Conservative) swiftly embraced modernist synagogue design in the years after 1945. She discusses the work of such well-known architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, as well as lesser-known figures, such as Pietro Belluschi and William Wurster, praising their designs as innovative in conception (especially their interior use of modern decorative art) and inspiring in effect." —The Forward
"The book's main argument is succinct and clear, aided by the numerous pictures throughout all chapters. Those include not only Kahn's drawings and completed works, but also the exterior and interior designs of synagogues and other buildings by a host of architects from the nineteenth century to the present."—H-Net
"Important and insightful."—Jewish Exponent
“[P]ioneering and noteworthy . . . Solomon provides well-written narratives about the history, aspirations, and politics of Jewish congregations and community centers that worked with the master architect.”—CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly
“Kahn is finally situated in the Philadelphia where he actually lived and that shaped his work as an exponent of the nineteenth-century industrial culture in which form had meaning." —The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography”
“Susan Solomon’s engaging study of Louis Kahn’s unbuilt designs for the Mikveh Israel synagogue in Philadelphia shows how this project, which extended over a decade through Kahn’s mature career, was part of a broad pattern of American Jewish congregational patronage of modern architecture and visual art. Kahn’s designs for Mikveh Israel represented his critical response to the conventions of modernism in postwar American synagogues. Solomon shows how the Mikveh Israel project’s evolution marked the convergence of Kahn’s search for transcendence in his art with the client’s effort to define its identity and renew its role in the heart of Philadelphia through the 1960s. This book tells a compelling story of how his extraordinary mind struggled to come to terms with Judaism as a religion he did not practice but, in this project, one that he tried to reconcile with his own profoundly spiritual aims for his style of modern architecture."
—Joseph Siry, Professor of Art History, Wesleyan University
“Susan Solomon’s book, with its climax in a study of Kahn’s plans for a venerable congregation in Philadelphia, treats these plans within the broader context of the mid-century synagogue and as part of American modern architecture. Her level-headed and scholarly text sets the building in context; unlike some publications about Kahn, it is neither worshipful nor polemical. This book can be read with pleasure and intellectual profit by lay readers as well as scholars. Dr. Solomon also addresses synagogues by Philip Johnson, William Wurster, and others, and offers approaches to modern synagogues based on her own previous writings on Kahn and Jewish-sponsored architecture. Her book will be welcomed by researchers who deal with the architect, the building type, and American Jewish history.”—Carol Herselle Krinsky, Professor of Art History, New York University
SUSAN G. SOLOMON is the author of American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space (UPNE 2005) and Louis I. Kahn’s Trenton Jewish Community Center. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and heads her own research firm, Curatorial Resources & Research in Princeton, New Jersey.