sacred objects

THE WOOD AWARDS 2011 – Finalist

It is very rare that a spiritual brief drops on the desk of a designer architect. If then, the ambition is to interpret and synthesize in a contemporary way the key symbols of a religion that is 3000 years old, the task becomes a rather complex challenge.

The “Ark” (cabinet containing the sacred scrolls) and the “Bimah” (plinth-raised high table to read the Bible) are features in all Synagogues of the world: they are ancestral Jewish objects of worship. In addition, an Acoustic Canopy has also been designed in sintony with the other objects to eliminate the need for electric amplification of the voice.

Olive wood is the chosen basic material, for its enormous symbolic value and for the very attractive random veining and lustrous colour contrasts.

For millennia, Olive trees have been an unspoken symbol of Mediterranean culture. The olive is one of the plants most often cited in literature in association with peace, wisdom, glory, fertility.

OLIVE WOOD has been perfect to provide a narrative link (in time and space) to the origin of Judaism.


A bespoke contemporary light feature is also part of the ensemble that sits in the pre-finished envelope.

The “NER TAMID” also is a feature in all Synagogues of the world: it is the “Eternal Light” as Jewish symbol of worship that hangs in front of the Ark.

Many other religions have similar features because of the easy association between physical light and spiritual enlightenment.

In origin it was the light of one olive oil based flame: one energy source, simple and weak, but full of poetic charm. It was originally used to illuminate and highlight a sacred spot and always been charged with symbolic values.

The timelessness of the uncertain flame light has been translated (for this project) into a simple electronic source of energy: one small cluster of LEDs emits light while enclosed in a rigid grid of triangular thin rods hanging off an olive wood canopy.

The contemporary design response to these ancestral typologies will provide timeless inspiration for everlasting spirituality.


Studio team: Luca Mantovanelli, Rosalba Napolitano, Francesco Draisci

Client: New North London Synagogue

Fabricator: Opus Magnum

Photography: Carlo Draisci