Temple Beth El

People: Minoru Yamasaki , Minoru Yamasaki & Associates

Date: 1973

City: Bloomfield Township

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, photo by Rob Yallop.

Temple Beth El is located in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, on a low rise adjacent to Telegraph Road, a wide and heavily traveled thoroughfare. Mature spruce and pine trees are present around the base of the structure to shield the worshippers from outside distractions. The unmistakable design of the sanctuary incorporates a tent-like form to recall the "Tent of Meeting" referenced in the Bible and the earliest places of worship used by the Jewish people. The cast-in-place concrete structure consists of two pairs of closely placed sloped columns, or tent poles, supporting curved ridge beams at the top of the structure and tied together by elliptical ring beams at the structure's base. Below the ring beam is a transparent curtain wall of clear glazing that gives the illusion, from the exterior and interior that the tent-form roof is hovering above the open sanctuary space. Between the ridge beams is a transparent skylight that provides natural light into the sanctuary and further emphasizes the "lightness" of the structure. Catenary steel cables suspended between the ridge and ring beams support the gentle curve of the lead-coated copper roof which soars some seventy feet above grade. The administrative offices, social halls and religious school are located in a one-story wing that extends north from the main entrance to the sanctuary on the building's west elevation. The Temple Beth El comprises approximately 112,500 square feet, and can accommodate up to eighteen hundred worshippers.


In the early 1950s, Rabbi B. Benedict Glazer made a formal declaration to Temple Beth El's Board of Administrators that it would be necessary for the congregation to relocate to the northwest suburbs to be closer to its congregants. The board responded in 1952 by purchasing a 19-1/2-acre parcel of land on Northwestern Highway. The same year, however, Rabbi Glazer passed away, and in 1953 Rabbi Hertz was installed as senior rabbi and encouraged to move forward with Rabbi Glazer's vision. Seeking an architect to help the congregation plan and design a new facility, Rabbi Hertz traveled to New York and conducted interviews with a number of architects including Percival Goodman (designer of the synagogue for the Congregation Shaarey Zedek). Hertz also consulted the editor of Architectural Forum magazine who recommended that the congregation commission Minoru Yamasaki or Eero Saarinen for the project. Improvements were made to the existing location on Woodward Avenue, however, no action was taken toward moving for over a decade. By the mid-1960s, however, over 60 percent of the congregation had relocated to the suburbs, and the impetus to relocate once again began to gain momentum. In 1966 the congregation purchased the present 28-1/2-acre property and commissioned Yamasaki Associates to perform a land utilization study. Two years later, the decision was made to retain Yamasaki for the building design. Several congregants engaged in the construction industry were familiar with Yamasaki, however, it was his recent work in Detroit that was critical to him receiving the commission. Yamasaki worked with the congregation's building committee to design a structure that was not only beautiful but that would also provide an inspiring place in which to worship. The tent-like form was inspired by the "camps of tents of the twelve tribes of Israel."