The Manchester Jewish Museum Celebrates Identity and Commonality

With a focus on guest experience, Citizens Design Bureau’s addition and renovation elevates the museum’s ethos.

01 Philip Vile Manchester Jewish Museum Exterior Day 2021
Citizens Design Bureau recently added an addition to the Manchester Jewish Museum. Courtesy Philip Vile

The Manchester Jewish Museum, which opened July 1 after a two-year closure and the $8 million redevelopment, is welcoming guests into a space that asks them to explore their roots, identity, and social views with an open mind. “By using architecture, we’ve been able to convey a sense of exploration, as well as respect and understanding between cultures, and that’s what the museum is really about,” says Citizens Design Bureau founder Katy Marks, whose team was hired by the museum in 2016 for the renovation and addition. “We hope it becomes a place for starting conversions and celebrating diversity,”

The firm, who has worked on many historic listed buildings and religious establishments, was proud to be chosen for the project. “For me, religious buildings are interesting because of what they say about their communities and how they reach those communities,” Marks says.

09 Joel Chester Fildes Manchester Jewish Museum Cafe 2021
Manchester Jewish Museum café Courtesy Joel Chester Fildes

The Manchester Jewish Museum’s synagogue, which was built in 1874, is the oldest synagogue in the city and therefore, the grade-II listed building required meticulous care in its renovation. While the museum is now double the size, it uses 20 percent less energy than before due to insulation and natural ventilation.

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The renovation process included a forensic examination to find the original paint colors and patterns. Victorian sun burners were later converted into air extract grills. Marks and her team aimed to create a space that “was relevant and not just a relic,” she says. Thus, it’s not only a museum artifact, but has been designed as an atmospheric event space.

13 Joel Chester Fildes Manchester Jewish Museum Gallery Journeys 2021
Interior of the new gallery spaces Courtesy Joel Chester Fildes

Both the interior and facade of the synagogue feature Moorish motifs. While that may seem unusual to guests, the synagogue was built by Sephardi Jewish immigrants who came from Spain, Portugal, and Northern Africa. Since the architecture of this region was heavily influenced by Moorish, Islamic traditions of earlier rulers, Marks wanted to display a similar, geometry in the new building.

“Each node of the eight-point geometry is expressed in a different way,” she says. As the museum is in a busy industrial area, the unique facade is also a chance to capture the attention of passersby. “Normally with listed buildings, you want to create something quiet and respectful, but we didn’t want it to get lost in the cluttered streetscape,” she says.

19 Joel Chester Fildes Manchester Jewish Museum Synagogue 2021
Interior of the historic synagogue Courtesy Joel Chester Fildes

For the new building, Marks and her team built a learning kitchen, a vegetarian kosher-style café, sunlit atrium, plus there’s a gallery space. “One of the overarching connectors to culture is through food,” she says. Thus, the Jewish kitchen, which feels at home in the center of the museum, offers workshops to people of all ages in the Jewish community and of many other diverse backgrounds. While the new gallery, which was designed by London-based All Things Studio displays the museum’s 31,000 objects, it’s the historic architecture that sets the scene.

The new gallery space includes oral histories, as well as items linked to the immigrant’s journey. Marks concludes, “The museum team wanted to make sure it addressed the questions that would resonate across society like the idea of migration and what it feels like to be a minority in a host country.”

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