The Judges in the 2019 Engineering Excellence Awards Competition have selected Moise Safra Center for an ACEC New York Gold Award in the category of Structural Systems.

The Moise Safra Center (MSC) is a new 14-story synagogue and community center that packs 65,000 square feet of programming into a tight urban site on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The vertical campus includes a swimming pool and gym on two levels below grade, three levels of classrooms and multi-purpose rooms,  a double-height basketball half-court, a two-level banquet hall that cantilevers over an outdoor terrace, and a rooftop playground. Floors 2 – 4 are dedicated to religious spaces that include a double-height synagogue and a smaller sanctuary, library, and rabbinical offices one floor above

The lateral system consists of only two column lines in each direction — around the building perimeter — in order to generate lofty, column-free floorplates (approx. 60ft x55 ft). The entire frame is designed as a moment frame with HSS12 chevron braces. At the double-height levels, these braces span two stories, and are inverted at the 10th floor cantilever. The synagogue features a U-shaped 3-level stepped balcony, but is offset from the alter wall and street wall for daylight and aesthetics, and therefore cantilevers at its corners.

The private nature of a religious space somewhat secludes the impressive design from the public, yet MSC is a testament to how innovative engineering can serve many varied uses within a unified structure. To passersby, the building exterior provides a modern edifice of the community’s traditional values and an international flair with materials from around the world. At the synagogue levels, the building façade is ornamented by five massive, 2-story tall, 8-foot wide, vertical stone fins that pivot out, away from the building.

MSC is envisioned as a second home to the young families of the Sephardic Jewish community it will serve. Roughly ten years since its conception, the congregation now serves 1,500 families. The needs of the spiritual synagogue spaces and the lively family-oriented community spaces are disparate, yet this design creates a unified building that flows gracefully from one to the other, organized around the need for a place to worship and celebrate, as well as to nurture its members. To protect its congregation, the lower floors incorporate blast-resistant and ballistic design in response to a risk and threat assessment.

During excavation and foundation work, a 4-story neighboring building had to be braced until three permanent superstructure shoring connections were in place to engage and stabilize the building next door. The geology of this site is made up of medium hard mica schist, excavated to a depth of 26 feet. Sitework vibrations needed to be minimized because of proximity to a subway tunnel just 40 feet away. The structural design throughout the rest of the building also required meticulous attention to vibrations due to the proposed uses, long spans, and cantilevered areas, which was further complicated by the need to alternate the framing direction at several floors.

Because of the tightness of the urban site, and the requirement to maximize the usable area for program uses, the design team worked closely with MSC to strike a balance between their ambitions and the reality of the allowable building area. The “pristine and functional design” offers a compelling discourse of fitness, learning, growing, and worship that will create a unique vibrant Jewish community. According to the Center, “this dialogue will impart wisdom, enrich our lives, nurture relationships, and cultivate a community unmatched in New York City.”