"Daniel Libeskind designed the 63,000 square foot (5,900 square meter) museum, which occupies and extends the 1907 Jesse Street Power Substation, originally designed by Willis Polk. Delays and budget issues forced Libeskind to alter his original design for the building, which was completed in 2008.
The museum cost $47.5 million to build.
The museum’s tilted, dark-blue steel cube slices into the old substation’s brick, making visible the relationship between the new and the old. Libeskind’s design preserves the defining features of Polk’s old building, including its brick façade, trusses, and skylights. 36 diamond-shaped windows light the top floor of the metal cube, known as the Yud, which hosts sound and performance based exhibitions. The museum’s other section, a slanting rectangle known as the Chet, holds the narrow lobby, an education center, and part of an upstairs gallery.
Similar to Libeskind’s Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen, the Contemporary Jewish Museum incorporates text into its design. Inspired by the phrase “L’Chaim,” meaning “To Life,” Libeskind let the Hebrew letters that spell “chai,” “chet” and “yud,” inspire the form of the building. The Hebrew word pardes, meaning “orchard,” is embedded in the wall of the lobby.
The building also houses a multi-purpose event space, an auditorium, a café, and the museum store.
Critics, such as Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times, praise Libeskind for a “careful balance of explosive and well-behaved forms” and gallery designs that abandon the architect’s characteristic slanted walls. Likewise, David D’Arcy of the Wall Street Journal sees the museum as a laudable departure from Libeskind’s previous work. He finds a “lightness to this [museum] that is rare in the architect’s work” and that “relieves the surrounding district’s glass and steel tourist-mall monotony.” D’Arcy, however, bemoans the project’s budgetary restrictions, which he argues are apparent in the museum’s “architecturally clumsy” multi-purpose space.
Edward Rothstein of the New York Times criticizes the museum for its dedication to “multiple perspectives and open-mindedness…without a grounding in knowledge, without history, detail, object and belief.” Without a permanent collection, the Contemporary Jewish Museum forgoes a sense of a collective Jewish past, he says." (visit link