Polshek Partnership, LLP

New York City


The largest synagogue in the world occupies a prominent corner on New York City’s Fifth Avenue across from Central Park. Surprisingly, it has not achieved the acclaim of comparable Manhattan architectural landmarks, such as Grand Central Terminal or Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Designed by Kohn, Butler, and Stein and completed in 1930, Temple Emanu-El features an imposing limestone facade, marked by a magnificent stained-glass wheel window by Oliver Smith, behind which resides a soaring, 103-foot-high, clear-span basilica, clad in Siena marble and enriched with glass mosaics and gold tiles. The ornamentation is masterful: red, green, and yellow columns with individually distinct capitals support the side galleries; steel trusses with exposed rafters and tie beams spanning the ceiling are covered in plaster and also painted rich reds, blues, greens, and yellows. The room, which seats 2,500, is flanked by the equally stunning Beth-El Chapel. More intimate in scale, it is distinguished by two domes resting on granite columns.

Although the interiors had always been properly maintained, the enormous size of the space and lack of access to many of the areas made cleaning difficult. As a result, 75 years of accumulated city grime, soot, and dust had diminished the original luster of the materials, creating a dingy, oddly monochromatic pallor throughout.

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners (BBB), the firm responsible for refurbishing Grand Central Terminal in 1998, directed this $30 million restoration and upgrading of the m/e/p systems.

In this case, the solution was not an architectural one in the usual sense. Success depended on meticulous research and planning before any restorative action could be considered. According to project architect Tom Lindberg, AIA, BBB contracted specialists in the industrial roped-access techniques used in rock climbing and caving to survey and document the conditions of inaccessible recesses 100 feet above the floor.

Once that data was collected, the architects began the arduous process of drawing floor plans and elevations and mapping every problem. They were aided by an extensive archive of original material. With the mapping process, BBB located areas of water staining, efflorescence, plaster decay, marble cracks, mosaic-tesserae loss, metal corrosion, and paint failures.

After this phase, the architects began testing multiple treatments for a mind-boggling list of materials, including 20 species of stone––marble, granite, limestone, travertine; ceramic and glass tiles; and marble mosaics––several metals, including ornamental bronze, steel, nickel, and brass; painted and gilded plaster; Guastavino’s sound-absorbing Akoustalith tile; and polychromatic inlaid wood marquetry


Congregation Emanu-El
1 East 65th Street
New York, NY 10021
Dr. David Posner, Senior Rabbi
Dr. Mark W. Weisstuch, Administrative Vice President

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP
41 East 11th Street              
New York, NY 10003
John H. Beyer, FAIA, Executive Partner
Tom Lindberg, AIA, Project Manager

Consulting Restoration Architect:
James F. Rhodes
111 North Riverside Avenue
Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520
(914) 271-2155

Client Architect:
Barteluce Architects & Associates
36 West 25th Street, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10010
Daniel L. Barteluce

Construction manager
Tishman Construction Corporation
666 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10103
Ignazio Artale

Structural Engineer:
The Office of James Ruderman LLP
15 West 36th Street
New York, NY 10018


Atkinson Koven Feinberg Engineers, LLP
1501 Broadway, Suite 700  
New York, NY 10036
Paul A. Bello

Acoustics/Audio System Engineers:
Jaffe Holden Acoustics, Inc.
114A Washington Street
Norwalk, CT 06854
David Robb

Lighting design
Sachs Morgan Studio, Inc.
224 West 30th Street
New York, NY 10001 
Roger Morgan, Principal

tained Glass Restoration:
Femenella & Associates
3 Brighton Court
Annandale, NJ 08801
Arthur J. Femenella

Materials conservation
Integrated Conservation Resources
41 East 11th Street, 3rd Floor            
New York, NY 10003
Glenn Boornazian

Metals conservation
Wilson Conservation
100 East Fifth Street            
Brooklyn, NY 11218
Cameron Wilson

Roofing consultant
James Gainfort, AIA, Consulting Architect
121 West 27th Street, Suite 803
New York, NY 10001

Vertical Access
P.O. Box 4135
Ithaca, NY 14852
Kent Diebolt

Decorative Painting & Masonry Cleaning:
EverGreene Painting Studios, Inc.
450 West 31st Street
New York, NY 10001
Jeff Greene



Acoustical ceiling panels: custom color Euro-Mat painted acoustical panels by Sound Concepts Acoustical Products

Lighting control system: Electronic Theater Controls, Inc.

Bimah chair upholstery fabric: Alexandre Velvet by Old World Weavers

Pew upholstery fabric: custom weave by Scalamandre

Limestone, granite, travertine cleaner: Enviro Klean 2010 by ProSoCo

Akoustilith cleaner: Wishab sponges by Akachemie of Hamburg, Germany