The Museum at Eldridge Street

The design work on the museum began in June, 2007. The museum was scheduled to open to the public on December 2, 2007. The scope of work presented by the new museum’s administrators was extensive, but the funds allotted to make it happen were not. The project called for exterior and interior signage and wayfinding, an exhibit about the restoration of the building, including photos, text, artifacts, interpretive labels and a video, and an exhibit of synagogue and neighborhood artifacts. For the design team, this went beyond a normal signage and exhibit project as none of the Eldridge Street Project staff had any previous museum experience.

As of June, no copy had been written, no exhibit script existed, no signage had been messaged. The museum’s official name and its graphic identity had not yet been determined. In fact, the entire building was still a construction site and contractors, painters, electricians, plumbers and restorers were everywhere. The architects were still in the process of choosing materials. It was difficult to envision what the finished space would even look like.

Since the synagogue is a landmark building, every exterior sign had to be presented to the NYC Landmarks Commission for review and approval. To comply with the city’s rules, designers had to create detailed documentation boards and present their plans to the Commission. To complicate matters, the commission was not in constant session so proposals could only be introduced on one day each month. Another set of detailed documentation, with locations and specifications for all signage had to be created and presented to the N.Y. State Historic Preservation Office. The landmark approval process had a serious time impact on the project as approvals had to be granted before work could begin.

The synagogue’s interior created unique design challenges. The designated exhibit space is only 12 by 24 feet and is located on an open balcony overlooking the very ornate restored sanctuary. The exhibit needed to attract attention and inform visitors but not interfere with the intricate patterns on the walls and surrounding stained glass windows. Another impact brought on by the building’s landmark status was the prohibition against making any attachments to restored walls and surfaces.

Perhaps what inspired the designers most was that throughout the entire six months of activity the 120 year-old orthodox Jewish congregation continued to worship in the building’s lower level. This was not just a museum, but also a very spiritual place. Even during the frantic final days of the installation, all work stopped for the Sabbath. On the museum’s opening day, December 2nd, the overwhelming emotion among all involved was that this magnificent restored structure had been given back to the community and allowed to tell its own story to future generations.

The exhibition on the balcony level of the synagogue tells the preservation story without conflicting with this landmark restoration.


One side of the balcony overlooks the restored sanctuary. The exhibition was designed so as not to interfere with the view.


Lower exhibit panels, opposite, do not obscure the restored stained glass windows.


A metallic powder-coated finish was used for the exhibit structures to echo and compliment the historical finishes.


In the visitors’ lobby, the directories replicate the architectural outlines of the building. A brochure rack welcomes visitors with current program information.


The Tzedakah wall creates a connection for visitors between the concept of charity and support of the museum.


Yiddish signs from the old neighborhood and synagogue artifacts are interpreted in this small exhibition. Custom wood cases match the interactive tables in the foreground.


A weighted, free-standing, 3 sided pedestal locates the entrance to the museum within and informs pedestrians after hours.

In order to help facilitate and organize the project we set up a Sharepoint collaboration site on our server where all parties involved had a secure log-in. We set up a sign list database that the client could edit for content, the designers could edit for dimensions, and the production company could access for fabrication estimates and planning. A shared documents area was available on the site where comps and proofs could be reviewed and approved.  Photos of artifacts and the restoration were organized in editable online galleries, and a shared production schedule calendar was accessible to the entire team.

3D models of the building rooms and artifacts were created in order to help visualize the exhibit design. 


The Museum at Eldridge Street