The Bowdon Shul
The site of the Bowdon Shul, purchased in February 1999, lies in the Bowdon Conservation Area and the proposal to provide high quality facilities for a growing community required the demolition of an existing pair of Victorian semi-detached houses, which had been converted in a residential home for the elderly, but had been empty and derelict for some years. A sensitive design, which would enhance the character of the Conservation Area, was therefore sought from the outset.
The solution was a contemporary building set back from the road and retaining mature perimeter planting, reflecting the pattern of development of the neighbouring villa properties.
In June 1999 nine firms of architects were asked to submit ideas based on an outline draft of requirements, and in July 1999 Buttress Fuller Alsop Williams were chosen as the appointed architects.
Constraints posed by the compact site necessitated stacking the principal rooms – the galleried Synagogue and a large communal hall – one above the other. Use was made of the sloping site to place the communal hall at lower-ground level and to create a sunken garden with a safe play area for children.
The main entrance is a glazed foyer with voids reaching down to the lower-ground floor and up to the first-floor entrance to the ladies’ gallery, admitting daylight into the heart of the building.
The Synagogue itself is square with the Bimah set centrally in a traditional arrangement. The low pitched roof rises to a glazed lantern over the Bimah with an exposed steel roof structure that further emphasises the latter’s position and importance. The ladies’ gallery is arranged on three sides of the main space and care has been taken to create a degree of intimacy while still being able to accommodate large numbers for major festivals.
The windows on each side of the ladies’ gallery are fitted with stained glass windows by the Scottish artist, John Clark. The windows represent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the festivals of Succot, Pesach and Shavuot. The Ark and the Synagogue interior are all finished in oak to maintain the light, airy ambience of the building.
Alongside the Synagogue at ground level is the library and Beit Hamidrash in which weekday services are held. A retractable wall allows this area to become part of the main worship space, providing additional seating for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Synagogue was designed to enable access by both the able-bodied and the disabled while still conforming to the requirements of Halacha. Sloping ramps provide ease of access to the main entrance and a lift has been installed with special programming for use on Shabbat. A mechitzah has also been installed on the ground floor for ladies unable to access the ladies’ gallery.