Rose Window

In Architecture, Historic Preservation on April 22, 2010 at 11:46 am

Rose Window, Western wall. Stained glass and tracery. Eldridge Street Synagogue

Rose Window, Eastern wall. Glass and cement. Eldridge Street Synagogue.


The Eldridge Street Synagogue is adorned by two glorious rose windows on its eastern and western walls. Like all aspects of the building’s design, these Gothic windows tell an important story about this landmark’s history.

The western rose window is decorated with twelve floral shaped roundels, each with a star of David in its center. This window is a central feature of the building’s façade and announces to all passerby’s the Jewish and sacred nature of the building. While this window is original to the building’s 1887 design, its counterpart on the eastern wall is not.

No early drawings or photographs of the window originally installed on the eastern wall exist. Records indicate that this rose window was damaged by weather and removed around 1940. Unfortunately, a lack of funds prevented the congregation from fixing the window and installing a new design until 1944, when a congregant donated the replacement pictured above of glass blocks in the shape of two sets of paired tablets.

In the summer of 2010, the eastern window will be replaced by a new permanent installation, a monumental stained-glass window designed by contemporary artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. The commission marks the final significant component of our 20-year restoration, and is a wonderful marriage of new and old in our historic sanctuary.

Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans. Preliminary rendering of new rose window.

Discussion Questions

  • Look closely at the rose window.  What do you notice?
  • No information exists about the intent of the design choices within the original rose windows. Why do you think the shapes and patters seen were selected?
  • What do you think the original eastern window looked like?
  • Do you think the Museum should replace the 1944 rose window installed on the eastern wall?
  • If you were asked to design a new rose window for the Synagogue, what choices would you make?

Classroom Extensions

  • The rose window on the eastern wall represents a huge preservation issue. Should the window remain or be replaced was heavily debated by preservationists and staff.  Three views were contemplated. The first was to leave the window alone. The second was to replace the window with something that would have looked more like the original. The third choice was to replace the window with a new design.  Have your students debate the issue from a historical, preservation and aesthetic perspective.
  • Listen to Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans discuss their design for the eastern window.
  • When the Museum decided to replace the eastern rose window, it commissioned many artists to submit design proposals.  Have students submit designs for a new rose window. Proposals should including drawings and a short essay explaining their choices of palette, shapes, and theme.

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