My Architectural Work: Putting the Jewish Soul into Buildings
INFUSING ARCHITECTURE WITH A JEWISH SOUL
For over 30 years I have been engaged in advancing and expanding the boundaries of Jewish art. During the past few years I have been focusing my artistic process on transforming and elevating Jewish communal space. The commonality I seek in all my works is that each creation should:
- Be deeply based in authentic Jewish tradition. This typically requires extensive research in relevant texts and ideas and means that each work should have an educational and spiritual aspect in addition to the aesthetic one.
- Have the spark of the innovative and creative. I seek to keep each piece fresh and inviting; it should delight, move and inspire the viewer, owner or participants.
- Be of the finest design, craft and workmanship.
I believe that the creation of meaningful works of Jewish art is a holy process and the seriousness, care and devotion one expends in other spiritual matters should be applied here as well. It is in this spirit that I am currently expanding the areas of my Judaic art to include the creative reconceptualization of Jewish space. I have worked with synagogues, museums, camps schools, and Hillel foundations to imagine what exciting results we can achieve by exploring the nexus between community, programming, education, spirituality, art and space rather than considering each of these as separate realms.
This is not a matter of simply making murals, sculpture or objects for decoration; it is not conventional interior design. As someone recently commented to me, “There is really no name for what you are doing!” I suspect the reason for this is that usually there is a fairly limited interaction between institutions and artists.
Typically an artist is summoned to decorate a wall with a tapestry or mural, design a stained glass window, or install a sculpture in a vacant corner. The artist is chosen based on her style and tries to do “something on a Jewish theme.”
In contrast, I consider the institution itself as a canvas. The building is but one aspect of this. I try to thoroughly understand the goals, the activities and the dreams of an institution. I want to know where it is successful and where it sees its deficiencies. I try to speak in depth with everyone associated with the institution and carefully watch and participate in its daily life. My job is to then take all I have learned, experienced and felt and create innovative, meaningful, sometimes challenging and beautiful solutions for how its total environment can truly further its objectives. I try to envision the building as a total environment that, like staff, programming, donors, boards, and advisors should actively and continually contribute directly to the actualization of the goals of the institution. I seek to imagine the building not as the quarters in which the institution housed, but as an active participant and engaging partner in institutional life.
I have been stunned at how immediately and intuitively those who hear about my work understand it, appreciate it and want it. Time after time, in a meeting of a few hours, a committee, planner, or architect significantly rethinks how they are going about their project. I’m pleased to take some credit for this, but I think a lot of it has to do with the realization that to turn a major building project from a beautiful structure to a meaningful one isn’t about throwing money at it. My contribution typically adds but a tiny proportion to the overall budget, but this minute fraction can be catalytic: a small drop of meaning, thoughtfully applied, can drastically change the entire tenor of the whole structure.
I vividly remember one of my proposal presentations during which the major donor just kept shaking her head and saying: “He’s giving us so much for so little cost.” Sometimes my ideas require no additional expenditures; sometimes they can help save money. But virtually always, the added value and excitement this kind of thinking generates contribute significantly to the potential for fund raising.
For me a project really works when each element in it resonates with what is meant to be happening there. Whether I am looking at a new construction project, something that has already been designed but not built, or an existing structure, I seek to infuse each one with a vibrant Jewish spirit that speaks to the particular organization’s vision.
As one of my clients recently commented to me: “You put the soul into the building!”
David Moss, Jerusalem