Wilbraham Road Synagogue
Designed by architect Joseph Sunlight (1889-1978), this Grade II Listed Synagogue is built in a neo-Byzantine style and, from the Wilbraham Road elevation, the Tower dominates the composition. Internally, the spectacular double height space is further accentuated by a reinforced concrete dome, supported on arches. Such was its popularity that the ladies’ gallery had to be extended by a third almost as soon as it was finished. However, a shifting congregation meant that the synagogue became unsustainable, and the community put it up for sale. A businessman from the community, concerned that Jewish students coming to Manchester would have nowhere to pray, purchased the building with the aim of retaining the synagogue as a place of worship, at a reduced level, whilst including study spaces and meeting space for social events.
In order to secure the future of the building, it was necessary to restore and remodel the interior to provide a religious space of sufficient capacity to meet the needs of the remaining community and the student influx. An additional floor has been inserted, spanning the whole building, at a level just above the existing balcony fronts, carried on an independent structure,. This new structure is designed to be, and to appear to be, a totally modern, minimalist intervention with a separate existence to the original building. It is intended to be reversible, in so far as is physically possible, without permanent damage to the structure. A careful cut-back of the floor at the east end allows the maximum view of the spectacular Ark by the congregation. Whilst the beautiful volume has been lost from this area, the religious use remains, and the building has a new life.
The new upper hall has created accommodation for religious and secular activities including communal meals during festivals, birthday celebrations and social events. Users are able to enjoy a close view of the vaults and dome in what is now a very significant space in its own right, whilst the lower floor remains as a Synagogue.
Winner 2008 Manchester Society of Architects Design Awards (Conservation and Re-use category)