Beth Emet The Free Synagogue

Reimagined sanctuary, event, and lobby spaces update this midcentury modern synagogue to accommodate the needs of a 21st-century congregation.

This warm, joyous congregation of over 700 families, located in a historic district of Evanston, Illinois, commissioned a Master Plan to identify current and future space needs. The existing midcentury modern building, primarily designed by Walter Sobel in 1963, included a sanctuary, school, and office building. The Master Plan identified modifications to improve community interaction, worship, education, and social action. A phased construction plan was developed, first concentrating on key worship and social spaces, and later addressing education, accessibility, security, and administrative requirements.

The renovated Sanctuary reinforces the original design concept of a congregational “tent” while improving comfort, acoustics, and accessibility. The sloped floor is flattened, and flexible seating replaces the fixed pews. A new star-shaped cloud ceiling in the Event Space improves acoustics while emphasizing the iconic modern design. A former gift shop, coat room, and library are combined into an expanded lobby, scaled to the size of the congregation.

An additional phase now under way will address security and administrative updated and other meeting spaces.

Evanston, Illinois

42,500 gross square feet

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