Cass students working in collaboration with Rachel Lichtenstein

Cass interiors students work with artist and author Rachel Lichtenstein on a project at UK's oldest surviving Ashkenazi Synagogue.

Date: 23 April 2018

Interiors students at The Cass have recently had the opportunity to work in collaboration with renowned artist and author Rachel Lichtenstein on a live project for Sandy's Row Synagogue in Spitalfields.

Sandy's Row is the oldest surviving Ashkenazi Synagogue in the UK. The board have secured Heritage Lottery funding for a mixed-use cultural heritage program in the currently unused basement space. The development of the basement will provide a unique flexible space through which rich oral histories can be told to impart cultural significance to the wider community.

The group began their research and investigation into the history of area and the site by ‘A Walk with Rachel Lichtenstein’, discovering narratives, oral histories, hidden stories and memories. This led students to then explore and challenge the notion of cultural heritage and consider possible spatial interventions. The basement was knee-deep in artifacts, and hidden treasures were found in the space. Some remain, others were taken to Bishopsgate Institute archive as part of Rachel’s ‘Hidden Histories’ project.

Eleanor Hopwood, BA Interior Architecture and Design said: “The walking tour given by Rachel Lichtenstein has been a brilliant source of inspiration for our project based at Sandy's Row Synagogue. Part of the brief is to involve the history and demographics of the local area into the cultural space that we design. As much as you can learn from researching and reading there is nothing like hearing someone who is passionate on a subject talk about it.

"Rachel showed us the area of Spitalfields, Aldgate and Whitechapel as she has experienced it watching it change over decades as she carries out her work as a social historian. Hearing the stories behind the buildings and streets was exciting and meant you can start to imagine how the area might have been different to what we see today”.

Many exciting ideas are emerging, the idea of preserving the history by encasing the heritage so that the remains of where the market traders stored their barrows can be visualized. The space itself has its own atmosphere and layers of history. The traders of Petticoat Lane Market stored their stock in the basement and shared offices with the Synagogue.

Rachel Lichtenstein

Rachel Lichtenstein is a British artist, writer and curator who is internationally known for her books, multi-media projects and artworks that examine place, memory and identity. She currently combines writing and research with a post as Reader in Creative Writing at MMU (Manchester Met University) alongside working as an archivist and historian at London’s oldest Ashkenazi synagogue Sandys Row. Her books include Estuary: Out from London to the Sea (2016) , Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden (2012), On Brick Lane (2007), and Rodinsky’s Room(1999, co-written with Iain Sinclair). Her latest project involves deep research into Jewish settlement in East London and the Caribbean.

The project tutors at The Cass are Janette Harris, Suzanne Smeeth-Poaros and Karl Harris.

Image: Catherine Wheel Alley. Students enjoy an exploratory Spitalfields walk with author Rachel Lichtenstein ( right)