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Rewriting Wright's Synagogue with a Touch of Green

Light defines Frank Lloyd Wright’s Beth Sholom synagogue in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park. Even on a rainy day the inside of this temple seems bright. Daylight streams through its transparent ceiling, as if from the heavens, into the “house of peace” (Beth Sholom in English) . The pyramid-shaped structure, built high on a hill in the 1950s, is a National Historic Landmark, so changes to the temple pose a challenge. (Most of Wright’s original brown Naugahyde seats have remained untouched, for example.)

But gradually and discreetly, Beth Sholom has been greening the six-sided sanctuary and adjacent visitor’s center. To augment the abundance of natural light, and at the same time save energy, the Temple recently swapped out the old bulbs in chandeliers and other fixtures for LED lights. The building now sports occupancy sensors and water-conserving faucets as well. If Wright were to visit his creation today, he would most likely welcome such modern “tweaks.” After all, the synagogue itself was a bold break from tradition. And speaking of tradition, Happy Rosh Hashanah!

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