Revalorisation of the Great Synagogue

Revalorisation of the Great Synagogue - Design Thinking in Architecture
Architecture Design Thinking

Revalorisation of the Great Synagogue

I would like to show the implementation of Design Thinking in architecture. For the topic of my master thesis I chose the Great Synagogue in my hometown (Jarosław, Poland). The temple was built in the 19th century, currently serves as a gallery and classrooms of the art school. First of all, I decided to study this case to remind residents of a forgotten Jewish history and culture. I would like to design an inspiring space for the young artists, open for a local community. This project is particularly challenging since the building needs to recall history and to connect scholastic and public function.

I conducted a wide research (Jewish history and culture, archival plans and photos of the building). Moreover, I based my thesis on 5 stages of the Design Thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. My work also includes architectural survey and visual design of the project. The thesis was supervised by professor Dominika Kuśnierz-Krupa.

Project duration: 6 months, 2016.


History of Jews in Jarosław

Multicultural character of the town is connected with Jarosław’s fairs. They were famous worldwide in the 16th – 17th century. A Jewish community was slowly growing, despite local restrictions. They became very successful in trade, usury and crafts. At the beginning of the 20th century, Jews accounted for 30% of the population and owned 72% of commercial premises in the town. The Second World War brought a tragic end of the community. The Great Synagogue is one of many Jewish buildings in Jarosław. It was erectedin 1811 and rebuilt several times, which changed its original form. Since 1964 it has been a part of the art school.

Original Architecture of the Great Synagogue in Jarosław

A design of a Jewish temple is regulated by the Talmud and the Old Testament. It has a main entrance from a vestibule on the west side. From there we enter the main hall. It is situated on the east side because the prayers have to rise in the direction of Jerusalem. The main hall has a rectangle plan and triple height. The floor here is situated below the general building level – “From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord” (Psalm 130). On the east wall, there is Aron Kodesh – a chamber that houses the Torah scrolls. In the middle – a place for speeches bimah. Reach decorations make a great part of the interior and have a symbolic meaning. This part of the temple was available just for men. A double height women’s gallery was situated above the vestibule. In the south, there were two levels of auxiliary space. An external staircase on the west elevations served for rooms on upper levels. The building has a parking on the north side. There is an empty inner court between the east elevation of the building and further dwelling of the street. An entrance is possible through the south gate and it has open access from the north.

Analysis of the Temple’s Modifications

The main transformations of the Great Synagogue include:

  • removal of the external staircase on the west elevation, 
  • construction of a new, inner staircase in the south part, 
  • extension of the auxiliary space – an additional level above it,
  • adaptation of the attic for workshops – a new roof,
  • adaptation of the women’s gallery for the Small Art Gallery, 
  • excavating of a new basement under the auxiliary space,
  • division of the main hall – workshops on the ground floor, double height Great Art Gallery on the first floor,
  • transfer of the main entrance from the west to the south elevation,
  • removal of the some decorations, the bimah and Aron Kodesh.

Design Thinking Process

1. Empathize

In this phase I discovered needs and insights of different users of the school – present and potential. I used the empathy mapping to represent the summary of three Personas. The school principal Adam who gave me a perspective of a client and teachers. Julia as a representative of students and the young generation. Last but not least, Maria – an outgoing habitant of the town.


Adam is a 40 years old teacher and school principal of the Jarosław Art School. He teaches the history of art. Since he got a head position one year ago, he is actively implementing innovations and changes in the school. After work he attends meetings of the Jarosław’s Enthusiasts Club. Personally he has a wife and a son. 

  • “I wish that I can create a school available for every student. For example, right now it is almost impossible to provide good educational conditions for disabled people.”
  • “My students are very talented. I wish that their art is recognised by the locals.”
  • The history and the identity of the Great Synagogue is forgotten.
  • Classes are small and dark, and do not provide proper conditions for education.
  • Design of an art school should reflect its artistic atmosphere. 
  • The building is adopted for classrooms but a space for storages, a boiler room, a staffroom is not really well organised.
  • Responsible for the school and future of his pupils.
  • Fascinated by the town and its history.
  • Organises a lot of exhibitions of students’ art, but they are not very frequented and popular.
  • Promotes local history and culture.


Julia is a 16 years old student of graphic design in the Jarosław Art School. Except for free-hand drawing classes, her subjects are closely connected with digital design. Julia is an individualist but she loves to spend time with her classmates – also after school. She likes modern art and in the future she would like to open her own art gallery.

  • “During the classes, I wish to feel like a real artist not like a student.”
  • “In Jarosław, there is no place we can meet with my friends. Local bars and cafes are very conventional. You know, they do not have this bohemian, artistic atmosphere.” 
  • Proper interior design supports creativity. 
  • All the students are very talented but their art is not well promoted.
  • There is no professional equipment in classrooms.
  • Happy to work in groups.
  • Trapped in dark, small classrooms.
  • Isolated from the rest of the town.
  • Lacking creativity.
  • Sometimes she brings her own laptop to school because IT classrooms do not have enough space for all students.
  • Surrounds herself with colours.
  • Helps to organise school’s exhibitions.


Maria is 68 years old and a retired sewer. She used to work in the local fashion and textile industry. In her free time she loves to meet old friends in private houses, bars and cafes. She always has a lot of energy and is constantly curious. Maria is a very religious person. She is a widow and her son lives in Warsaw.

  • “I like these crazy, bold ideas of modern art. In Jarosław everything is rather discreet and old fashioned.”
  • “I always have the temptation to see the gallery, but the building looks very inaccessible. There are fences everywhere.”
  • Art is very interesting but people in general have small knowledge about it.
  • Older people should know more about new technologies.
  • The religious and cultural role of the Synagogue should be accented.
  • Curious about activities of the art school. 
  • Little bit afraid to try doing art on her own.
  • That finally she has enough time for herself.
  • She lives close to the Art School, but she has never entered to see the student galleries.
  • Always wears something colorful to accent her character.

2. Define

According to the empathy mapping of my Personas, I defined problems answering the questions “How can I…?”. 

How can I show the historical and cultural identity of the temple? (1)
How can I adapt the building for disabled? (2)
How can I invite locals to participate in the school activity? (3)
How can I design the building so that the students feel like real artists? (4)
How can I connect the scholastic and public functions of the school? (5)

3. Ideate

I generated ideas based on the defined problems. After discussion with my supervisor, we have chosen the most interesting concepts to work on, during the next Design Thinking stage. The mind maps below represent these ideas.

4. Prototype

Considering generated ideas I created schemes, low-fidelity and finally high-fidelity models and drawings. This process took around 4 months and was supported by my supervisor.

Low-Fidelity Prototype

Historical and cultural identity of the temple (1)
    To accent structural changes of the building I decided to use light, open-work panels. They cover added and removed volumes. The pattern of the panels is inspired by hebrew typographic of Yael Segal. 
    The temple comes back to its former white and light gray tones. The vivid colour of the transformed parts of the building is added after a consultation with my supervisor. In this way changes are even more visible. What is more the building has artistic accents.
    Windows on the base floor of north elevation get masking shutters. It is impossible to restore the primary main entrance on the west elevation, due to safety regulations. Although it is used as an additional entrance and accented with the colour frame. 
    Renovation of existing architectural details of the elevations.
    The classical, white interior of the gallery is preserved. To recall the original height of the room I decided to use mirrors on the floor. They are installed as a ribbon along the walls to make the illusion of a suspended floor and existence of a lower level.   
Building for disabled (2)
    The staircase remains in the same place but it becomes wider (and more comfortable). A new levator is located next to the stairs and close to the main entrance. 
    Differences between levels e.g. between outside pavement and the main door, a hallway and the main hall are connected with ramps. 
    Toilets on the ground floor are adjusted for disabled. 
Locals participate in the school activity (3)
Students feel like real artists (4)
Scholastic and public functions of the school (5)
    Organise multifunctional space on the inner court and square (parking) including: open-air cinema and stage (permanent or temporary) with alternative performances. 
    Remove existing fences to make the space more welcoming. Main door made of glass to allow passerbys see the inside. Additional side doors to the building from the inner court and west side. Open gate which links inner court with the main street. 
      Level -1

      A technical space such as boiler room and additional storages are located underground. It is possible to use some of the rooms as a bar staffroom.
      Level 0

      Main Hall serves as a space for workshops and conferences with possibility to rent. Bar is open for both students and locals. There is also a small multipurpose lounge and cloakroom. 
      Level 1

      Daily free access to the galleries and students’ art. In this space it is possible to organise vernissages, meetings with artists but also sell art. Administration of the building is located also on this level. The Small Art Gallery receives a modern artistic look – murals inspired by Hebrew symbols and art. 
      Level 2 and the attic

      IT classes located on the second floor and attic. The attic is designed as an open space with movable walls. It is possible to arrange classrooms of different capacities or leave them open. They have circular communication and roof windows which provide light. In the middle there is a foto studio (without access to natural light) surrounded by little storages and teachers rooms. 

High-Fidelity Prototype


To open the building for a public I remove all fences and design four possible entrances to the building. Many of them are made out of glass to show what is happening inside of the school. The main entrance is located at the south elevation. Now it is possible to pass directly from the street into the inner court using the gate (south-east corner). There are also ramps that help elderlies and disable people to enter the building. Windows on the base floor of north elevation get masking shutters. One secondary window on the west elevation is rmoved. Attic instead received big roof lights.

The temple received its primary soft colours. It gives an elegant look and good contrast for artistic installation. White, open-work panels have a pattern inspired by by hebrew typographic of Yael Segal. They mark parts of the building volume that have changed throughout the ages. Walls under the panels are painted in more vivid colours. In this way the changes are even more visible.

Square in front of the north facade and inner court become a public plaza. A blank space creates possibilities to host events such as concerts, theaters, fairs. On the inner court there is a minimalistic auditorium which serves for open air cinema. The pavement has a similar pattern and is made out of concrete and grass. Almost all the building is surrounded by lawn.


The main idea of the interior’s revalorisation is a space division. In this way the building can host both – public and private (scholastic) functions. Public (level 0) and semi-public (level 1) space is open for the whole community, offers different activities and supports interactions between students and locals. Private space (level 2 and attic) is dedicated for pupils. At the same time, the priority is to accent historical identity and artistic character of the building.


The basement is dedicated for the services such as boiler room or storage rooms. It can be used also as an additional facility or stuff room of the bar located on the ground floor. This space has an entrance just from the staircase near the main door. Thanks to that location the basement is separated from the representative part. At the same time fully accessible and easy to reach from the outside.


A representative ground floor is used fully for public purposes. There are vestibules near each of three entrances. Staircase and elevator is located next to the main entrance. Due to the difference between the levels of the staircase and the main hall, I designed a ramp and low stairs, connecting these spaces. The bar  is open both for locals and students. It is partly connected with the inner court and the main hall. Thanks to that, it is possible to increase the number of tables, if necessary. The biggest room – the main hall is designed as multifunctional space. It can host events, conferences, author’s meetings, workshops, artistic fairs. The building has also needed facilities – information desk, cloakroom, lounge (smaller meetings or private dressing room for performers), toilet adjusted for disabled.


Two galleries are located on the upper floor which makes them a little bit more private. Although they are right next to the staircase and elevator, that provides easy access. They are a place where locals can meet with art daily and students can show off their work. Both rooms have double height. The Great Art Gallery is located above the conference room, occupying the space of the former temple’s main hall of prayers. In the past this space had triple height (gallery+conference room), now it is divided with the ceiling. To accent the history I designed the mirrors on the floor. They are installed as a ribbon along the walls. The mirrors’ reflection make the illusion that the floor is suspended and existence of a lower level. Here, the classical style and architecture details are preserved. The Small Photography Gallery is accessible from the Great one. This room is treated in little bit more artistic ways. I decided to design murals that connect modern art with Hebrew symbols. On this level we can also find an administration office of the school and toilets.


Here starts the private space of the school. This floor is mainly occupied by galleries (they are double height). There is also a computer graphic classroom with the view for the Great Gallery and toilets.


The bright attic is designed as an open space. In the center I located the rooms that don’t need natural light access such as photography studio or storages. Around this core, there is space for the classrooms. Thanks to movable walls, the size of rooms can be changed, according to students / teachers needs. The communication on this level is circular. In this way students can feel more like real artists, working together in the community. Big roof windows provide natural light access and a view for the city. On the south part there is a second computer graphic classroom and toilets.


This section goes through the main staircase, conference room (level 0), double height Great Art Gallery and attic. It shows perfectly the division of functions on different floors.

5. Test

Since this work is just a theoretical project and was never realised, I could not test the real impact on users. However, the architects and professors of Rzeszów University of Technology appreciated my project. I defended my thesis with the final grade 5 (the highest possible). I also hope it represented well the implementation of Design Thinking in architecture.

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