Cohen: Codesigner

Rabbi and Architect Scale New Heights with Innovative Synagogue.

HUMANITIES, May/June 2013, Volume 34, Number 3

Frank Lloyd Wright designed many well-known churches in addition to the residential gem in southwestern Pennsylvania he’s best remembered for—Fallingwater. Across the state, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, stands another of his masterpieces, one of the world’s best-known modern synagogues—Beth Sholom.

It was the result of a serendipitous collaboration between Wright and his client, Rabbi Mortimer Cohen, who was instrumental in the idea of the building as “an architectural metaphor for Mt. Sinai.”

From his early career to the 1950s, the American architect had been working on the question of the “potential of modern architecture to create transcendent sacred space,” as Joseph M. Siry, writes in Beth Sholom: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture (University of Chicago Press, 2012). In the “modernist tradition of structural poetics,” Wright met the challenge with soaring translucent planes that allow majestic displays of changing light to pass through the tetrahedral dome.