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Claude E. Menders; architect restored religious buildings

Claude Emanuel Menders, an architect who worked on a restoration of Boston's Old North Church and designed renovation plans for dozens of other religious buildings, died Friday at Brigham and Women's Hospital from complications of lung cancer and heart disease. He was 59.

Light was a major theme for Mr. Menders, who for two decades created big open spaces with lots of sweeping views of water, hoping to draw in as much light as possible to his projects, according to his wife, Michele Kudisch.

The Weston resident spent considerable time making sure his work was compatible with its environment in "a search to bring in what was outside to the space that you were in," Kudisch said.

His architecture firm, Claude Emanuel Menders, Architects, Inc., was hired to work on the Old North Church in 1980. For the next 13 years, the firm completed a number of projects there, making the historic building handicapped-accessible, restoring the church's adjacent office buildings, and refurbishing the library in its tower.

Most of Mr. Menders's projects, however, were area synagogues, in which he relied on his knowledge of Jewish culture and tradition to guide much of his work. Traveling to Israel to learn more about ancient temple designs, Mr. Menders drew heavily from religious texts as he searched for inspiration.

In the mid-1980s, he worked to build the Temple Beth David in Westwood, designing it so that when the sun set, light spread across the whole sactuary.

On a current project to revamp the Temple Emunah in Lexington, Mr. Menders put "his own unique stamp on it," highlighting the image of a menorah, rather than the traditional six-pointed Star of David, which he saw as a 20th-century phenomenon, said his colleague, Lynn Spencer. Designing a cluster of five windows representing the five books of the Torah, Mr. Menders carefully chose other rich religious images to decorate the temple, which is scheduled to open this fall.

The projects, Kudisch said, brought him "a tremendous sense of religious fulfillment."

What made Mr. Menders so appealing to work with, according to his colleagues and family members, was his way of working with clients.

"He was very careful about listening to his clients' needs," Kudisch said.

A native of Neuvic, France, Mr. Menders moved to the United States in his early teens, and earned a bachelor's degree in architecture from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1967. He worked two years on public works projects for the Peace Corps in Grenada. After working for a number of local architecture firms, Mr. Menders started his own Boston-based firm in 1979.

In 1986, when he took his cat to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital, the veterinary intern who got Mr. Menders's cat back on its feet caught his fancy. In a move that many who knew him described as uncharacteristic, Mr. Menders boldly called her the next day to ask her out. The intern was Kudisch, whom he married in 1990.

A wearer of refined suits, Mr. Menders always carried an antique ivory architect's scale in the breast pocket of his suit jacket.

Quiet and introspective, Mr. Menders worked with an intensity and passion that stood out, but "it's not a red passion, it's a quiet passion," Spencer said. "He was not ostentatious; he gave off this quiet radiance, he gave off light."

"He was extremely thoughtful about every word he said -- words meant a lot," Kudisch said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Menders leaves a daughter, Libby; his mother, Beatrice Schey of Weston; and a sister, Gabrielle Ciarlo of New York City.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. today at Temple Beth David in Westwood. Burial will be in Beit Olam Cemetery in Wayland.

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