Architecture & environs
A thrilling combination of the old and new, the historic and the contemporary, the religious and the worldly…
Situated in the midst of arguably the most interesting and historic urban square miles in the country, and on a campus that includes both SA’s first synagogue as well as perhaps its grandest, the South African Jewish Museum is a marvel of modern architecture.
The work of celebrated architect, Michael Hackner, the museum is “clad in Jerusalem stone…stark and modernistic yet also carries overtones of biblical ancientness and the honey-coloured warmth of Levantine vistas.”(Cape Argus, December 2000). The contrasts continue within the museum’s walls, its sleek, gleaming interiors creatively combining metal, glass and wood throughout.
This fascinating fusion of old world and new is perhaps most starkly captured in the glass and steel bridge that connects the Old Synagogue and the new museum, symbolising the ship gangway down which Jewish immigrants walked upon first arriving on South African shores many years ago. The design team also added a special touch by positioning each window of the museum so that it looks out onto Table Mountain.
The South African Jewish Museum borders the National Gallery and The Company’s Garden. This environment is rich in historical, cultural and religious associations, and the stately white-washed buildings, walkways, stairs, fountains, ponds, statues and gnarled oak trees exude an old-fashioned charm.
The main body of the museum faces onto a paved courtyard, connecting the magnificent Gardens Synagogue (all Eastern-styled domes and minarets), with its predecessor, the Old Synagogue (established 1863), and the Albow Centre. The latter comprises of the South African Jewish Museum Shop, Jacob Gitlin Library, Café Riteve restaurant, Cape Town Holocaust Centre, and the Israel Abrahams hall.
The South African Jewish Museum remains the only custom-built museum in Cape Town in the last 50 years.