Located on Drexel University’s campus, the Centre for Jewish Life – also known as a Hillel House – stands as a beacon of light against the faded and worn out Philadelphian cityscape.
Strips of fiery red, protruding face bricks stretch across the building’s length and welcome visitors in with a warm and sunny expression. Staying true to the local context, architect Stanley Saitowitz used locally sourced brick to clad the building. “Brick is a vernacular material used extensively in Philadelphia, and especially fine examples of elaborate brickwork surround the site in the Powelton neighbourhood,” said Saitowitz.
Given the fact that the red brick Frank Furness Bank building was only a few blocks away and the brick Venturi building was on the Drexel campus, it was only natural to acknowledge the city’s architectural heritage with the use of face brick in the Centre for Jewish Life’s construction.
But aside from its familiar material, the centre’s bold and exuberant exterior is unlike any building in the area. Reflecting more than what initially meets the eye, Saitowitz has created a brick façade that draws inspiration from the Jewish faith. Characteristics of the branched lampstands used in Jewish homes and temples, as well as the striated garments worn during prayer, can be seen in the face brick façade’s pattern and design.
The bands of brickwork, which have a patterned relief and glazing that vary in width like a barcode are based on the vertical branches of a menorah candelabrum. And the rough, protruding blocks are designed in a manner that conjures up the image of a tallit. Designing the Centre for Jewish Life in this way, Saitowitz has imbued an ordinary material such as face brick with rich symbolism and meaning that transcends the boundaries between faith and architecture.