Capital Jewish Museum
The original Adas Israel synagogue in Washington, DC, dating from 1876, is a small red brick building with tall arched windows. The oldest synagogue structure in Washington, the revered landmark eventually ceased to be used as a worship space and later became the home of the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum, part of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.
The synagogue has led a nomadic life. In the late 1960s, plans for a new large government complex threatened the demise of the structure. It was saved from razing and moved from its original location. Today, it has moved to yet another location to be part of the new mixed-used Capitol Crossing development. This second move created the opportunity to expand the structure’s cultural purpose and programming commensurate with its historic and cultural importance to the history of Jewish life in Washington.
SmithGroup designed an addition to the historic synagogue that not only serves as a transition to the larger-scale mixed-use development looming behind, but also “cradles” the landmark building as if to protect it from further upheaval. A metal surround finished in a reddish color identifies the main facades of the new museum while variegated terra cotta cladding adds visual interest and evokes the brick of the historic synagogue.
When finished, the museum, located between the Penn Quarter and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, will connect families and diverse communities, inspire reflection about the relevance of history to today and encourage visitors to explore their role in making change. The historic synagogue, elevated on a plinth, is protected and showcased as the main artifact of the museum and consists of a first floor and second floor with upper gallery, with a total area of 4,150 SF. The new addition will provide 27,800 SF of programmed space including a two-story glass-enclosed atrium, galleries, exhibit space, a multi-purpose space and support spaces.
With a combination of intense planning and deeply contextual design, an important building in the Nation’s Capital has finally found an appropriate permanent home to continue sharing more stories of the city’s rich Jewish history.