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To Life! 

The renewed JCC is downright handsome.

And those who've visited the renamed Carole and Marcus Weinstein JCC recently can attest that the building's former dullness has blossomed dramatically into something fresh, light-filled, multidimensional and downright handsome.

Call it a generational and institutional update. Call it pumping up the building's modernism. Call it what you will, the place looks great.

When the center decided, after serious consideration, to stay put rather than move and rebuild in the farther western suburbs, it engaged the Richmond architectural firm of BCWH to design a major overhaul and expansion from 75,000 to 100,000 square feet.

A number of things became apparent in the process. First, the original building was found highly serviceable, so few activity areas had to be shifted around. Even the original interior trafficways required little change from the original floor plan.

Problem was, after years of additions and alterations, the place didn't read well. Many spaces were befuddling, dark and uninviting. The finishes were tired and dated. And since the building was labyrinthine for its size, new directional signage was important.

A community center should function like a small town Main Street — where all ages can interact throughout the day and into the evening. Under BCWH's guidance, hallways were opened up and enlarged to become spaces conducive to informal gatherings, chance meetings or just hanging out.

The center's crowning glory is an enlarged entrance atrium. The length of the existing entrance hall was tripled. The roof of this space has been pushed upward from the building's main block with windows added to these upper reaches that flood the area with daylight.

But it's what the natural light shines on that's fantastic here. The Richard A. Arenstein Lobby has walls and flooring covered in a warm, rich, ivory-colored "Jerusalem" stone. Specially quarried in Israel and cut in Italy, the stone is rarely used in these parts, and its provenance adds emotional appeal and connectedness to the center. Its rusticated surface stops just short of appearing chalky, so the surfaces are as comforting as a tin of butter mints.

In other places the architectural detailing is similarly pitch-perfect. The main staircase still leads down to the Dominick Athletic Wing, but the railings have been updated with handsome aluminum fittings. With new wooden trim and sliding screens, the former art gallery area looks alive, something that couldn't have been said before. Retrofitted with new finishes and lighting, the auditorium, or multipurpose room, looks like a different space.

If there's sizzle on the inside, the building's exterior is also more distinguished now. A slightly larger red brick was used for spaces where the building was expanded, so one can read the growth of the building. And with the finesse of a fine artist, the architect has used the Jerusalem stone sparingly in key places—as at the main entrances, giving arrivals heightened presence.

Richmond has yet to appreciate much of its midcentury modernist architecture. All too often, architectural updates have added extraneous classical features — crown molding, pediment roofs and even colonnades. The great thing about the Weinstein JCC is that architect and client heeded what the existing building had to say. They maintained its simple integrity, honored its tradition and elevated it to new heights. S



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