Rising Expectations: Designing Unobtrusive Elevators for a Temple in LA

In past issues of Connections, we’ve profiled projects where our engineers ensured that MEP designs were as unobtrusive as possible. Our vertical transport professionals worked toward a similar objective for the elevators at the new Audrey Irmas Pavilion (AIP) in Los Angeles. Here’s how they – and the elevators – rose to the occasion.


AIP is on the campus of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a prominent institution that has served LA’s Jewish community for nearly 100 years. The AIP contains 55,000 square feet and encompasses a chapel, a terrace, a grand ballroom, meeting rooms, performance spaces, and a rooftop sky garden. The AIP website describes the building as a “cultural crown jewel” that “beckons Angelenos to gather – for celebration and community.”

That sense of community extended to the building team, named 2022 Building Team of the Year by AIA Los Angeles. In addition to Syska, team members included architects Gruen Associates (the architect of record), OMA (the design architect), and Matt Construction (general contractor).

As the elevator consultant, Syska reviewed and analyzed the elevator systems in the building, which comprise two passenger elevators and one service elevator. To determine the optimum configurations, the Syska team assessed pedestrian and service demands, and developed algorithms to determine run times and appropriate capacities.

Location Decisions

Syska also worked closely with Gruen Associates to figure out the best – and most cost-effective – placement for the elevators. Debra Gerod, FAIA, LEED AP – a partner at Gruen Associates – explains that the shape of the building, which slopes on three sides, presented some obstacles. “When you have a sloping wall, it affects your ability to use the floor space underneath.” There was no question; therefore, that the elevators had to be situated on the vertical wall, but within this limitation, the elevators had to allow for easy access. “We had to get people to those elevators without creating a whole network of hallways and circulation spaces,” Gerod says, crediting “really clever floor plans” for this achievement.

A Quest for Invisibility

Location was only one of several considerations. Another was to make the elevators “disappear into the architecture, according to Michelle Baratta, Syska’s Principal in Charge of the elevator design. The reason behind this goal was to avoid interference with the atmosphere of solemnity and contemplation. Acoustics also supported this aim. The Mitsubishi elevators delivered exactly what the environment calls for – smooth and quiet rides.

Indoor/Outdoor Connections

Since the elevators open onto the roof garden on the top floor, the team had to protect them with weatherproofing. This outdoor protection enables passengers to enjoy a vivid sensory experience. Upon arrival, the opening doors slowly reveal a majestic setting, featuring what AIA LA describes as it “provides panoramic views of the LA basin.”


The building has impressed visitors and architectural critics alike. Philip Kennicott of The Washington Post praised it as “architecturally bold and slightly retiring at the same time” and “a surprisingly companiable addition to the city block that houses the congregation’s buildings.” Adam Popescu of The New York Times described the AIP as “warm and vibrant.” And Gerod reports that the congregation is very happy with the results.

Now that she and Baratta have celebrated the AIA LA award, they’re ready to tackle new challenges – again, as collaborative team members. “Michelle endures my questions and takes them seriously,” says Gerod. “I am always pushing to understand the ‘why’ behind elevator code requirements. Michelle helps me understand while guiding me to look at a problem from a different perspective. To me as an architect, that is invaluable. I will forever want to work with her.”

Baratta is equally effusive. “I feel the same way,” she states. “Over 30 years we’ve developed a longstanding relationship built on confidence.”


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