Sephardic Community Center

Sephardic Community Center
Brooklyn, NY
1,000 SQ FT
Community facility expansion and renovation

Year completed: 2010

Project architect: BKSK Architects LLP
Project partners: Weidlinger Associates, Lilker Associates, Levien & Company, Horton Lees Brogden

Project summary:
BKSK Architects renovated and expanded Brooklyn’s Sephardic Community Center, which was housed in a 30-year-old building. The renovation and expansion needed to preserve the importance the original building held in the minds of its members and also create new spaces for a range of educational, athletic, and social service programs. The completed project serves preschoolers, school-aged children, young adults, adults, and senior citizens while also extending a clear invitation to all to participate in community events.

The Sephardic Community Center’s greatest Active Building innovation is the use of the central stair as the focal point for the community. Design of a 5’-8” wide central lobby stair connects the building’s three stories, and also connects the Community Center’s multi generational users. A key innovation is the glass wall along the wide central stair that incorporates over 400 images of family members who immigrated to the U.S. from Syria and other parts of the Middle East. This dramatic design feature places community members themselves at the heart of the architecture, inspiring ideas of life’s legacy, vitality, and fragility. Wayfinding is made clearer and visible opportunities for rest or social engagement are fostered with comfortable seating on stair landings. Natural light is funneled into the core of the 100,000 square foot building. Elevators are located less prominently but nearby.

The Sephardic Community Center also uses Active Design strategies reflected in the Active Recreation approach. The building includes a gym, fitness center, racquetball courts, flexible program rooms, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The most frequented program space is the fitness center, located on the second level. Translucent partitions convert what were once visually and distinctly separate rooms into inviting areas of engagement. Boards display information on classes, health and nutrition, and community activities. Externally, the glass-walled addition reveals the energetic spirit of its community and opens up the original opaque exterior typical of its time.

Active Design Highlights:

  • The circulation system is anchored by an architecturally distinctive open stair, which funnels natural light into the core of the building.
  • The open stair strengthens the building’s wayfinding system, and fosters opportunities for social engagement.
  • The design includes a gym, fitness center, racquetball courts, a swimming pool, and classes for members of all ages.
  • Signage displays information on classes, health/nutrition, and local community activities.


  • The two-story lobby space and circulation stair features a glass wall that incorporates over 400 images of family members who immigrated to the U.S., visually taking members up the stairs and through the building.
  • User Side Images Image 492
    Connective stairways. Photo: Jonathan Wallace.
  • User Side Images Image 493
    Lobby stair view. Photo: Jeffrey Totaro
  • User Side Images Image 494
    Photo: Jeffrey Totaro
  • User Side Images Image 495
    Photo: Jeffrey Totaro