Designing LDS, Jewish buildings seems natural to architectural partners

For 25 years, architects Roger L. Bown and Lawrence A. Robbins have been combining their talents to design Mormon and Jewish buildings, primarily in Southern California.

Of course, this may seem natural since Brother Bown is LDS and his partner is Jewish.Since Robbins & Bown was established in Los Angeles in 1969, the two have planned, designed, and constructed nearly 90 LDS and Jewish buildings, including many buildings for approximately 30 Jewish congregations. Within the Jewish faith, a temple - or synagogue - may include many buildings, including schools, or it may just consist of a sanctuary building, which includes the place of worship.

Among the architects' many projects through the years was the 14-building Stephen S. Wise temple complex, one of Los Angeles' largest centers of Jewish worship and education. During their 20-year association with the congregation, the two architects have seen the temple's membership grow from 300 families to more than 3,000. Their work has included designing the temple's nursery, elementary, middle and high schools.

In addition to their work on Jewish synagogues, the two architects have designed or have drawn up plans for remodeling projects on LDS buildings in the Canoga Park, Granada Hills and North Hollywood stakes, located in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles.

Speaking of their work, Brother Bown said designing an LDS meetinghouse and a Jewish synagogue is similar in that "both have chapels or sanctuaries, cultural/social halls, classrooms, kitchens, and bishop's/rabbi's offices. Of course, both faiths are strongly family-oriented and highly dependent on volunteers.

"Similar to LDS buildings, Jewish synagogues serve as social and spiritual community centers for their congregations," explained Brother Bown. "The members are spiritually and culturally bonded."

There is a difference, however, in the process of designing the buildings. Brother Bown explained that LDS buildings, in general, have standardized plans, although there are still the steps of design, city approval, working drawings, bid processes, final plans and construction. For Jewish buildings, fund raising is an additional process. Designing and constructing a Jewish synagogue generally requires five to 10 years.

"The synagogue members must raise all their own funds," Mr. Robbins said. "It is a lengthy process."

Both Brother Bown and Mr. Robbins agree that their work is more than a professional commitment and describe it as an emotional experience.

"A building must work for the people. That is the true test. If the building is serving their needs after five years, we've been successful," said Mr. Robbins.

Much of their work in the Jewish community has come from one congregation admiring another's buildings. According to Brother Bown, "We are frequently told, `We love your building. We want one like it - but we want ours to be better.' "

While Mr. Robbins focuses on the design aspects of their work, Brother Bown specializes in contracts, construction drawings, and specifications. They joke that together, they are "a complete architect."

The two architects met through mutual friends. After sharing ideas for five minutes, they formed their partnership on a handshake.

Brother Bown, an LDS temple ordinance worker for eight years, is a native of Salt Lake City. He is a graduate of the University of Utah and has worked in the architectural field for 43 years. He served a mission to England from 1950-52.

In addition to their work on religious buildings, the two architects and their staff have undertaken extensive work in institutional, commercial and residential buildings.

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