Congregation Beth Ahabah
Sacred places are places for people – de facto community centers.
Congregation Beth Ahabah is one of the oldest congregations in Richmond. It moved to its current location with the completion in 1904 of a magnificent Neoclassical structure. Over the years, it expanded its campus to include the 1912 Joel House and a 1957 educational building and several other nearby townhouses. With so many historic structures, Congregation Beth Ahabah realized that many of their facilities were out of date and required improvement for their expanding congregation and the many services it provides.
In 2018, the Partners for Sacred Places calculated the localized economic impact of Congregation Beth Ahabah through their direct spending, schools and daycares, and invisible safety net of community-oriented programs was nearly $5 million. With an understanding of their impact on the City, the congregation recommitted to their urban campus with their largest ever financial expenditure.
Now it is important to understand that members of Congregation Beth Ahabah have been making a design impact on Richmond for centuries, hiring architects of note to design homes and commercial establishments of distinction. Indeed, there are many neighborhoods and commercial districts with a unique sense of place entirely attributable to the design sensibility of members of this congregation.
Their design solution here allowed them to maintain activities throughout construction, and to provide the security, accessibility, multi-purpose indoor and outdoor spaces, technology, and efficient HVAC and other systems, all on a small campus and tight building site.
The new modern structure successfully ties together three buildings with different floor elevations and beautifully complements the historic streetscape with its massing, scale and materials. While a cornice line and water table at the base visually connect to architectural elements of neighboring structures, the new building’s design is a bold, modern statement. Important for the congregation’s educational programs, it incorporates religious symbolism, with the unusual two-sided arch at the entrance representing Hebrew letters that spell Life, the 2 tall thin windows split into 5 parts representing the Ten Commandments, and the 8 smaller windows near a 9th larger window representing a menorah.
Engineer: Ehlert Bryan Consulting Structural Engineers
Contractor: Kjellstrom & Lee Construction