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Dollis Hill Synagogue
Parkside, Dollis Hill Lane, London NW2
Dollis Hill Synagogue
associated engineer
Sir Owen Williams
date  1936 - 1938
era  Modern  |  category  Church/Synagogue  |  reference  TQ225859
photo  Owen Williams archive, part of Amey plc
Owen Williams acted as both architect and engineer for this building project, which, unlike most of the commissions he received in his career, did not have a government body or industrial company as its client. Its design was undertaken at the same time as the larger and more complex Daily Express building in Manchester.
The construction of the 1938 Dollis Hill Synagogue coincided with its elevation to district status with the United Synagogue. Its smaller predecessor, which subsequently served as a community centre, had been affiliated in 1932. The new synagogue was consecrated in 1938. It held 640 people — 324 men at ground level and 316 women at gallery level. The main elements of the building are the hall, a two-storey entrance area with offices and cloakrooms, and a smaller two-storey block at the rear.
For Williams, the site had few of the design challenges he was used to — no industrial processes to accommodate, no difficult city centre location, no long spans, no exceptional heights or other engineering problems. Instead, this building called for a sensitive architectural solution.
Concrete was Williams' material of choice and here he used reinforced concrete, generally only 125mm in thickness, cast in situ behind a cork lining left exposed as the internal wall finish. With this system, he created a series of vertical planes, zig-zagged in plan to enclose the hall, with similarly folded planes for its roof. With a span of 18.3m, the roof is of sufficient transverse pitch for rainwater drainage, so asphalt weatherproofing was not needed.
The hall is the centrepiece of the building and it consists of three bays each 6.1m wide, delineated by the folded planes described. The concrete is thickened at the folds, allowing enough strength for the walls to carry the cantilevered galleries, which sit in the Vs of the chevron-plan walls. The two-storey parts of the complex are rectilinear in plan with flat roofs.
The blandness of the outside walls is relieved by two types of emblematic window openings, enclosing the shape of the Star of David (hexagonal) and a seven-candle candelabra (inverted arch). These windows run in horizontal rows around the building. Williams later justified these whimsical features as being of structural relevance to a girder-like concrete element.
To cast the concrete, plywood shuttering was used. Because of the limitations of this technique, unintended horizontal bands appear every 1.2m, where the joints between the levels of shuttering were inadequately sealed. There was also some bowing of the plywood under the pressure of the drying concrete, which caused some bowing the wall planes.
Dollis Hill Synagogue is considered one of Williamsí least successful ventures into architecture. It was not well received by the client and he was forced to concede a part of his design fee in order to settle with them.
Used as a synagogue until 1996, the building then became Torah Temimah Primary School. It is Grade II listed.
Research: ND
bibliography
Jewish Communities and Records
www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/london/dollishill/index.htm
British History Online
www.british-history.ac.uk
reference sources   OWWOW
Location

Dollis Hill Synagogue