Illumination of the newly built synagogue in Dessau

– Text by Manfred Wolf for LICHT 9/2023 –

The laying of the foundation stone in 2019 marked the start of the new synagogue in Dessau-Roßlau. Four years later, completion is now scheduled for the end of 2023. The inauguration ceremony took place on 22 October 2023. Architect Alfred Jacoby, who has decades of experience with new synagogue buildings, is responsible for the design of the place of worship. Under the direction of the Frankfurt office, new buildings have already been constructed in Darmstadt, Heidelberg, Aachen, Cologne, Kassel and Chemnitz. As each of these buildings has its own environment, the requirements are very different. A community centre often has to be planned directly and integrated into the building complex.

For the first buildings, which were built from the end of the 1980s, the Jacoby office chose the two designers Jean-Marc da Costa and Manfred Wolf to design and realise the special luminaires. With their training as graduate designers at the HfG Offenbach and their first experience in the manufacture of luminaires with their company serien Raumleuchten GmbH, founded in 1983, they were predestined for this special task. Initially, the luminaires for the prayer room such as the menorah, chandelier, eternal light and Kaddish light were designed and supplied, but the later buildings are also equipped with luminaires from in the neighbouring areas.


A specially designed chandelier was not used for Dessau – not least because of the limited budget. In the previous buildings, this accounted for the majority of the costs for the special lighting – simply because of its size and the logistical effort involved. In Dessau, the architects also opted for a ceiling design that incorporates the Star of David as a striking central element. An elaborate chandelier, which would clash with the design of the ceiling, was therefore out of the question. The decision was therefore made to hang individual luminaires from the current serien programme. The “Draft” luminaire with its blue-coloured glass sphere and internal cone, which is closed at the bottom with a translucent diffuser disc, each with an output of 27 watts, emphasises the special ceiling design with its double ring-shaped arrangement without disturbing it. The main focus in the central part of the building was on the seven-armed chandelier.


This chandelier was to be installed as a wall-mounted iconic symbol next to the Torah shrine on a wooden panelling. The design presents itself as a reduced arrangement of seven lines, which “float” next to each other without touching each other due to their attachment to a separate plate on the back and radiate a certain lightness and immateriality. This effect is further emphasised by the backlighting of the individual arms. These are each held in two layers by backlit acrylic bars, whereby the rear layer is penetrated by the bars and the light can escape laterally in two planes. In the case of the lights that stand above the arms like flames, the front surface is also penetrated so that the flame glows. The panel and chandelier are made of solid, laser-cut aluminium. The panel was anodised in black and the chandelier in bronze. LED strips operated by dimmable electronic drivers were chosen for the light source on the back.


The menorah is flanked by flat, circular wall lights from the LID series, which emit their light around the sides of the wall and only allow a corona at the edge of the surface through an opaque glass pane, creating a spherical aura of light. The luminaire has four LED boards on an aluminium heat sink with a total output of 22 watts. Another serien model, the “Slice² Pi”, is used in the rear section of the synagogue with a lower ceiling height. At 30 mm high, the very flat ring of the ceiling light serves as a support and heat sink for the LEDs, which feed their light laterally towards the centre into a specially adapted acrylic surface of a five-layer structure. Most of the light is emitted downwards and is finely directed into the room via a pyramid structure. A thin, chemically hardened pane of real glass forms the top. The floating effect of the luminaire is created by a small amount of light that is emitted onto the ceiling via an opaque film. Size M in black with an output of 17 watts was selected.


Black is also the colour of the other lights used in the adjoining rooms. One of these is the “Reflex²” series, which has a filigree frame structure. Its light is emitted onto the ceiling via four LED boards and partially reflected back into the room via the prismatic reflector of the luminaire. The control gear, which supplies the LEDs with an output of 50 watts, is located under this plate, which is held in place by magnets. In terms of design, the luminaires were integrated into the air conditioning system in the ceiling in such a way that they form the end of each individual channel. The “Cavity” model is also used on the side of the suspended ceiling. A ceiling-mounted downlight with a simple cylindrical body that is recessed in a funnel shape towards the light source, thus ensuring a high level of glare control. As with “Slice² Pi”, the aluminium body is attached to the ceiling with a bayonet catch and enables optimum heat transfer from the light source to the housing thanks to a spring-loaded surface contact. There is also a row of “Cavity” in the outdoor area above the wide steps to the entrance, which are also equipped with a weather-resistant seal. This row provides inviting lighting for the entrance to this place of prayer and assembly.


Dessau’s special architecture is primarily associated with the outstanding Bauhaus buildings from 1925 to 1932 and the name of Walter Gropius. Even back then, lights were an important part of the building’s furnishings and were designed by designers such as Marianne Brandt, Hans Przyrembel and Max Krajewskieigens. Serial products such as the famous “Midgard” luminaires by Curt Fischer were also used. The new synagogue is thus part of an architectural tradition in which luminaires specially designed for the location are used alongside serially manufactured products.

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