Building a haredi Carnegie Hall

15 years after its founding, the Ron Shulamit Music Conservatory has outgrown being housed in someone else’s school.

har nof conservatory 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
har nof conservatory 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Fifteen years after its founding, the Ron Shulamit Music Conservatory in Har Nof has outgrown being housed in someone else’s school.
“We need a place to grow more,” says the conservatory’s Shira Barzily. “The frustrating thing is that the larger instruments, like the pianos, stay in the school, and there have been instances in which they’ve been damaged by the students during the day. We’re all waiting for the day when we have a space of our own.”
After a protracted struggle with the Jerusalem Municipality, the conservatory was recently awarded a corner plot on a slope of the Har Nof border of the Jerusalem Forest facing Yad Vashem, in a 17-dunam area slated for schools, nonprofit organizations and public buildings. The goal now is to raise $5 million as the conservatory approaches its 100th birthday this year since its founding in Jaffa.
But for Jerusalem architects Aaron Weingrod and Michael Abrahamson, the goal is to figure out how designs for a music conservatory for haredi girls differ from a regular music conservatory.
Urbane and sporting heads unadorned by kippot, the team seemingly has little in common with the humble trappings of Arieh Chasid and his conservatory. But both sides tout their partnership as a sterling example of religious-secular cooperation at its best.
“We’re trying to bring together Arieh’s vision of the school and the land we have to work with,” says Weingrod, who works out of an office in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem.
According to Weingrod, the level of design here is really on many levels, from acoustics to aesthetics.
“It’s creating the best acoustics, working with the program of the function that Arieh has put together for us, and making a beautiful building that looks right in its setting. Since we’re here in Jerusalem, and in the Jerusalem Forest, our idea is not to create a foreign body, but a modern building that has nice proportions, that exists nicely and blends in with both the forest and the neighborhood,” he says.
“We love the site because we are in the one of most beautiful spots in Jerusalem, and we know it won’t be built up in front of us. That gives us inspiration to also connect with windows, where possible, that will create dramatic views that will hopefully inspire people to play.”
BA program director Naomi Perl joins the conversation and says, “I want to suggest something: Come and see the sunset here. It’s amazing. It will give you inspiration” – a suggestion the architects enthusiastically agree to.
According to the architectural team, the basic plans include private rooms for teaching one on one; larger rooms for group music, ensembles and orchestras; an auditorium with 350 seats that will be used both for the conservatory and the general public; two large dance studios; a music library, with music rental to people in the neighborhood; and a music therapy area.
“Making music is a very lonely thing – so we’re planning a public area on each floor where people can meet going in and going out. People see each other and there’ll be places to sit and talk, to try to give a feeling of part of a community” says the pony-tailed Abrahamson. “That’s very important, because even if there’ll be groups and orchestras, it’s mainly going to be one to one on those rooms.”
Another feature of the building unique to its population will be the stroller “parking lots” that Weingrod and Abrahamson have designed inside the building.
“Since we know that in the haredi sector that there are going to be many young mothers and children, we have a whole area where you park your stroller and your kid has an area where he’s taken care of,” says Abrahamson.
But the big difference, besides the space for strollers, will be the lopsided number of ladies’ rooms to men’s rooms.
“We’ll have one men’s room on every floor except for the auditorium – where we’ll have according to the code,” says Weingrod, after getting the word from Chasid that the hall would be rented out to the general public for mixed-seating shows.
There aren’t any plans for a synagogue on the premise, due to themostly female clientele, but Chasid sits back and rubs his beard whenthe topic comes up.
“Now, that’s an idea,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
He says he hopes to continue on as director of the conservatory untilit moves into the new building, he’d like to perform at the openingshow, and then he’s out.
“I’m going to put my feet up and relax.”