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Tifereth Israel Synagogue


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Julie Seversonweaetxdyvaydzcwq, Substance

Project Name

Tifereth Israel Synagogue

Project Status


Year Completed


Construction Cost



Tifereth Israel Synagogue



  • General Contractor: Ball Construction
  • : Modus
  • Electrical Engineer: Modus
  • Plumbing Engineer: Modus
  • Structural Engineer: Charles Saul Engineering
  • Landscape Architect: Confluence
  • Conyers Design

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Project Description

Tifereth Israel Synagogue remodel is a comprehensive renovation of approximately 20,000 square feet of interior space, as well as exterior courtyards and site work. The synagogue site originally consisted of a traditional chapel (circa 1930) and small school wing (circa 1950). For nearly a decade, the congregation labored over the decision to remove the school and chapel wings. Due to declining membership over the past 30 years (-60%), rapidly increasing utility costs, looming maintenance costs deferred over twenty years, and changing worship methodology, the congregation determined demolition and adaptive “rejuvenation” of the most modern wing would best equip future generations with a lasting, functional synagogue.

Once the decision was made to remodel, the primary challenge became how to combine the spirit of a worship space within the practical needs of the multi-purpose wing built in 1969. The congregation wanted a modern worship facility to meet their needs, yet also desired a synagogue to speak to the Jewish and greater community as a whole. This remodel works, looks, and feels like it isn’t a “compromised solution” due to no other affordable option.

Primary spaces in the remodeled core had to accommodate many uses. The original multi-purpose event space became a worship space in the east half of the room and a meeting/social space in the west half, expandable on either side for holy day worship or for large events. The ark, the heart of the synagogue worship space housing the Torah scrolls, must be located on the east facing wall of the worship space for religious symbolism. Some congregation members desired the ark, particularly the eternal light (a lantern salvaged from the old chapel) to be concealed during social events in the space. To facilitate this, 10-foot tall cedar panels sequentially slide over the inner ark cabinet to conceal both the ark doors and the eternal light. The bimah (elevated platform in front of the ark) is demountable in six strips and can be stored in the adjacent storage room, or relocated as a stage. New dimmable compact fluorescent and LED lighting provides the capability to create different scenes according to programmatic requirements. Closing the ark panels and removing the bimah stage effectively transforms the sanctuary from a worship space to large multi-purpose event space.

Additional spaces in the synagogue are a classroom, youth lounge, staff offices, conference room, library, gift shop, and lobby/pre-event lounge. The remodeled building also features an updated, efficient mechanical system, efficient lighting, new roof, and many replaced windows. Monthly utility costs are now reduced more than 50% from corresponding monthly costs prior to the remodel.

The exterior of the main façade, along a major residential Des Moines boulevard, faced a multi-faceted challenge of “filling in the holes” left by the demolition of the old chapel while also creating a new image of the Synagogue to the community. Since the remodeled worship space now [appropriately] faces east towards the boulevard (it inappropriately faced west in the old chapel), the play of light on the views from the worship space became a key design element. A glass panel system provides a screen used to create two outdoor spaces and results in a new image for the synagogue along Polk Boulevard. The glass screen walls consist of twenty, 4’ x 10’ sheets of glass laminated together with an inner layer containing a white pigment screen pattern. The overall glass pattern is derived from historic geometric plaster patterns from the demolished chapel. A committee made up of the design team, congregation members, as well as the Rabbi and Cantor, developed the idea of one “private” courtyard space being mostly translucent glass, while the other larger event space panels would invert the pattern to contain mostly transparent glass. The courtyard space, surrounded by the library and Rabbi/Cantor offices, contains one pane printed with a significant prayer from Deuteronomy in both English and Hebrew. This courtyard space is intended to be a more private outdoor room for the congregation. The event space, directly outside the social hall/sanctuary room, contains one panel printed with traditional Jewish phrases and words of celebration and gathering.

The Tifereth Israel Synagogue remodel meets the needs and exceeds the expectations of the congregation. Membership is again increasing and both religious and operational staff continually note positive comments from congregation members and visiting guests.
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