Monday, 8 September 2014

Edward Bartley's Synagogue Princes St, Auckland Category 1 Listed NZHPT

Former Jewish Synagogue Princes St frontage Auckland Image Bartley Family Archive
The former Jewish Synagogue in Princes Street, Auckland, is one of Edward Bartley's  best known religious buildings. The Trustees for the project had already asked  Keals to submit plans for a wooden building when they decided, in 1884, to open the field by way of architectural competition. Thirteen entries were received including one under the name Expecto Credo, which was Edward’s and successful. He received tenders by 1 September 1884 for the erection and completion of the Synagogue.

West Elevation Former Jewish Synagogue Image Bartley Family Archive

In selecting the Bartley design, the Trustees were taking a brave step. The style of the design departed from the conservative manner in which the majority of Auckland’s public buildings were designed. At the time the design was called Romanesque with a touch of Gothic[i]. Edward used some eastern motifs and decorative features to refer to the origins of the faith which would be observed within the building. Furthermore, the suggested use of hydraulic lime cement in the construction was still considered unusual, despite several years of use and development of cement technology in the Auckland area. The white plastered exterior finish of the building again referenced the Eastern origins, within a European tradition suggested by the Romanesque form.
The interior received the highest praise at the time of completion. The ornamental glasswork was undertaken by J. Henderson of Wyndham St. Two circular windows in ruby and blue colours were completed first. The most difficult technical challenge was lead light glass for the semi-circular domed ceiling over the ark. The design was worked in ruby, blue, lemon and green. The effect of the light through this window was dramatic and symbolic, as the eye was instinctively drawn towards the heavens. The acoustics of the building were considered superb. They were put to the test at the dedication service in November 1885. Edward acted as choirmaster for the occasion and his son Alfred officiated as organist. The synagogue was filled to capacity, with representatives from most denominations joining the Jewish community for the event.[ii]

View of Former Synagogue from Bowen Avenue Image Bartley Family Archive
Edward's churches, large and small, reflect the values of their religious communities. He used the Gothic idiom with great confidence for his Protestant churches. Whenever possible he used local timbers to keep costs to a minimum. He then turned this restriction to best advantage by exploiting the aesthetic benefits of the wood. His churches were highly ornamented, in keeping with the Gothic style but the interiors display a restraint appropriated to their denominations. His Synagogue is successful because it too celebrates the faith for which it was to be a focal point. The origins of the faith are suggested by the exterior design and surfaces and reinforced by his use of a dome over the Ark. Light and acoustics are controlled by the design in order to enhance a sense of occasion and awe.

[i] New Zealand Herald 12 August 1884 page 4 col.7
[ii] The Synagogue building remains in Princes St, now used by the University of Auckland.

Historic Places Trust listing at: See Historic Places Trust Magazine Nov 1998 pages 23-26

See also Cyclopedia of NZ Vol II 1902 page 237; AWN 27 Dec 1884 Sup. pages 1 & 3; NZH 12 August 1884 p 4 col. 7, 2 Sept 1884 p 5 col. 1, 12 Sept 1885 p 3 col. 1, 9 Oct 1885 p 6 col. 1, 10 Nov 1885 p 3 col. 6-8, 19 Nov 1884 p 6 col. 4-6