OMA’s Audrey Irmas Pavilion Glows Like a Constellation
A strikingly modern expansion to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, the global firm’s first-ever religious building creates crucial community gathering space within atmospheric digs that recreate the sky above.
The Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s historic building, a stunning Byzantine Revival sanctuary, has served as a community staple of L.A.’s Koreatown and Wilshire Center neighborhoods since 1929. Now, the city’s oldest and largest synagogue has unveiled a bracingly modern expansion that propels the institution into the present day thanks to a generous $30 million gift by the philanthropist and art collector Audrey Irmas. Designed by partner Shohei Shigematsu of Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), the Audrey Irmas Pavilion will house community facilities for Temple members, organizations, and other community groups to come together in dynamic spaces designed for gathering after more than a year of separation.
The global firm’s first-ever religious commission, the Audrey Irmas Pavilion creates an entirely new civic anchor and gathering spot within the campus. “[Its] completion comes at a time when we hope to come together again, and this building can be a platform to reinstate the importance of gathering, exchange, and communal spirit,” says Shigematsu. “We assembled a constellation of spaces, distinct in form, scale, and aura—an extruded vault enveloped in wood establishes a multi-functional central gathering space and connective spine; a trapezoidal void draws tones from the Temple dome and frames its arched, stained-glass windows; and a circular sunken garden provides an oasis and passage to a roof terrace overlooking L.A.”
The building’s standout feature? Its slanted facade, which offers a strikingly modern contrast to its stately neighbor and features 1,230 hexagonal panels of glass fiber reinforced concrete. During the day, its haphazardly strewn rectangular windows sprinkle pristine white interior corridors with intriguing light and shadow play; they illuminate to a stunning effect outside akin to stargazing. Three separate activation areas—a grand ballroom, smaller chapel, and sunken garden marked by cavernous, color-rich voids within the structure—offer space for gatherings both large and intimate.
Koolhaas even custom designed a mezuzah—a religious object that acts as a constant reminder of God’s presence, identifying Jewish homes as places of kindness—for each door frame within the building. He meticulously hand-cut, filed, polished, and adhered individual letters atop each mezuzah, which were crafted from aluminum foam and cast in colored resin. “It’s an unexpected religious object having to answer explicit religious edicts, laws, and rules,” he notes, “which made it totally fascinating for me and a very good lesson to have at some point in my life.”