By James Gardner
May 20, 2002
New York Sun
I suspect that few readers if any will assent, as I would, to the following proposition: Architecture in New York has never fared better than at this moment.
How is that possible, some will demand, when nothing can rival the grace and majesty of Grand Central and the 42nd Street Library? Surely they, and 200 other structures from the turn of the last century, are impressive. But, as even early critics understood, these buildings were largely Beaux-Arts imitations of Baroque originals. You need only look at Perrault's East Front of the Louvre, from which Grand Central ultimately derives, to understand that the new building uses the older vocabulary mainly as ornament, while the original has all the geometric integrity of the Parthenon and the Seagram Building...
For the first time in our city's history, a plurality of architects seem to have the right priorities. Despite a great variety of styles, their works reveal the convergence of comfort and charm with a formal integrity free of severity...
In Hebrew, the words "Or Zarua," taken from Psalm 97:11, mean "Light is sown." How appropriate, then, that a young Conservative congregation of that name should build its new home as a column of living light at 127 East 82nd. This pale, nine-story structure, designed by the firm of R.G. Roesch, rises like a votive candle more than 100 feet above its narrow base. And yet, the light it sheds and receives is not bright, but muted and meditative. This effect is achieved through textured limestone on the facade and huge, mullioned windows whose layers of glass enclose, of all things, finely grained rice paper. The resulting translucency bathes much of the front portion of the interior in a sweet, almost dreamlike haze.
Occupying two tall stories, [the sanctuary] is one of the most surprisingly happy interior spaces in the city. As you sit in its steep-set pews, made of beech wood from Israel and covered in blue velvet cushions, you feel you are floating above the service. Such restrained sumptuosity contributes to the religious mood but never overwhelms it.