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Drexel’s Perelman Center for Jewish Life Building Praised for Its Architecture

1/9/2017 9:40:17 AM

The exterior of the Perelman Center for Jewish Life.
The exterior of the Perelman Center for Jewish Life.

Drexel’s Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life only opened at the end of last October, but it’s already racking up praise in the press for its unique architectural design.

The striking brick building, which was designed to resemble a menorah, was named to a Dec. 30 list from Wired titled 25 Masterpieces That Prove 2016 Was an Incredible Year for Architecture.” The Perelman Center for Jewish Life was ranked No. 13 (Philly’s other listing, the Pennovation Center, came in at No. 23).

“Brick, it seems, is making a comeback, and no building better illustrates this than the new Raymond G. Perelman Center at Drexel University,” the article notes. “Clad with a rich, tactile pattern of red masonry, the four-level building looks surprisingly light inside, thanks to ethereal lighting and large, geometric skylights.”

The three-story, 14,000-square-foot structure houses Drexel Hillel and features event space for 100 or more people, a chapel, meeting rooms, student lounges and offices. A kosher kitchen and kosher food services are available, as is a large outdoor patio on the third floor that will be used for socializing and construction of a Sukkah, a traditional temporary shelter built during the holiday of Succoth.

The amenities and design were also lauded by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer-Prize winning architecture critic Inga Saffrom in a Dec. 22 article titled “Design of New Drexel Hillel Was Inspired by a Menorah."

“Slotted between a pair of Victorian houses on 34th Street, the three-story jewel box marries a deep commitment to modernist ideals with religious symbolism and some old-fashioned Philadelphia redbrick,” Saffrom wrote. “At a time when so many new buildings in our city have become relentlessly generic, it's a pleasure to see on esaturated with narrative and meaning.”

Saffron, who also called the building “Drexel’s most powerful new building in years,” praised architect Stanley Saitowitz, of Saitowitz Architects, for drawing on his own Jewish faith when designing the facility.

“Our contemporary buildings have become so focused on function that we rarely get to encounter architecture so laden with meaning,” she wrote. “Of course, it’s easier to do with a religious building. But the Center for Jewish Life is one of those rare designs that feeds the mind as well as the spirit.”

The facility at 118 N. 34th St. was made possible with the help of a $6 million gift from Perelman, a prominent Philadelphia philanthropist who also gave financial support to open the Raymond G. Perelman Plaza on the former 32nd Street between Market and Chestnut streets. The center is the first building at Drexel constructed entirely through private philanthropy as well as the first standalone facility at Drexel dedicated to Jewish student life.