Page D2.2 . 08 June 2011                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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  • An Excellent Addition

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    An Excellent Addition


    In 1964 an addition was added extending to the southwest, mimicking the long west wing of the original; another addition was constructed in 1990, creating a C-shaped "claw" off the original. Both were designed by Taliesin Associated Architects. The predominant materials throughout these two buildings, as in Wright's, are limestone, glass, and wood.

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    Today the congregation numbers 1,600 — one of the largest Unitarian Universalist congregations in the country. The society commenced consideration of a third expansion in 1999, with the organization of a building committee and extensive meetings.

    The congregation seriously considered moving to a new site in the suburbs, but ultimately decided to stay on its historic site and work within "the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part," as one of the seven Unitarian Universalist principles states.

    That belief translated into the congregation's desire for not only an environmentally sensitive addition, but also one that would build upon the history of the location, the congregation, and its mission.

    The Kubala Washatko Architects used a design method that seems perfectly aligned with their client's philosophy. The firm's own approach is based on a worldview of "wholeness," which they describe as the "interconnectedness of all things."

    According to Design Principal Tom Kubala, who worked on the project with Senior Project Architect Vince Micha, Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language has greatly influenced the firm's working method by helping them understand how a design should unfold in response to the myriad wants of the client, the context of the site, and the materials at hand.

    After extensive time spent listening to congregants and drawing them out — there were 31 user groups for the First Unitarian Society addition — the architects formulated patterns to guide the design and set the goals for the final building. Thirty patterns were developed for this project, each structured as an Issue Statement, articulating a desire, need, or problem that the design must address (for example, "Current level changes and tight geometric circumstances make the facility unwelcoming to disabled members and visitors") and a Solution Statement, suggesting how the design might respond ("Make all public portions of the facility universally accessible, unless restricted by covenants concerning historical viability").

    "During the discovery phase of design," says Kubala, "anecdotal information, emotional information, information gathered from user groups may be recorded, but it does not find itself in the details of the design. But if we write patterns, a lot of that information becomes clear as a network of intentions. It codifies the issues that the design needs to resolve. It is a non-reductionist approach to design." The patterns are guideposts for the design, yardsticks by which the finished project can be judged.

    Another guiding factor was a committee of Wright experts, an advisory board of peers assembled by the firm to help critique the design as it developed. The board consisted of Neil Levine from Harvard University; John Garrett Thorpe, AIA, a Wright restoration architect from Chicago; Gunny Harboe, FAIA, of Harboe Architects, Chicago; John Eifler, FAIA, LEED AP, of Eifler & Associates Architects, Chicago; and representatives from the Wisconsin Historical Society. Besides giving the design architects direction, the advisory board helped reassure the congregation that the new building would be a fitting companion to Wright's original design.

    The congregation wanted the new structure to lower the intensity of use of the original Wright Meeting House, but not to upstage it architecturally. The addition, with its 500-seat auditorium and pre- and post-worship space, would provide a place for large worship assemblies and fellowship, allowing the smaller Wright worship space to be used for more-modest gatherings during the week.

    An early design scheme took its layout from the original building, using an equilateral rhombus as the overall plan shape. When a consultant informed the parish that its fundraising targets were unrealistic, the architects had to scrap the strong geometrical scheme and "re-grow the design," as Kubala puts it.

    The answer was an entirely new, simplified geometry: an arc that gently curves around the original building to the south, creating a circulation spine and a focused exterior space that help frame views of Wright's Meeting House. The primary pivot point for the arc is the pulpit in the original building, with a second pivot point being the pastor's office.

    "The circulation is in constant visual connection to the original building," says Kubala of the geometry generated off the Wright structure. "As people move from old to new, it is clear where the master is, and the addition is the servant to the older building." The exposed structural members, the window frames, the column grids, and the angle of the north/ south walls all radiate from the pulpit, in deference to the elder building.

    By area, the new 19,000-square-foot (1,800-square-meter) wing now constitutes about half of the church complex.

    Materially, the new structure is sympathetic to the old. Instead of stone, board-formed concrete is used to give the base a sense of weight akin to Wright's building. Colored concrete flooring and fiber-cement siding are also used.

    Glass curtain walls are framed with locally sourced wood; trunks of wind-felled pines from tribal lands in northern Wisconsin are used for structural timbers; and the roof is copper where it is not planted with vegetation. Many materials have high recycled content.

    Material choice is only part of what makes this addition sustainable. The green roof and the new permeable surfaces around the site have virtually eliminated stormwater runoff. Rainwater collection and storage onsite, efficient plumbing fixtures, and other strategies cut water consumption by approximately 30 percent compared to a comparable building without conservation measures.

    Passive solar design, along with a low-power-assisted natural ventilation system and abundant natural light, helps to cut energy consumption. The addition uses ground-source heating and cooling delivered through a radiant floor system. Kubala says that the design team used extensive energy modeling early in the project to guide sustainable choices throughout.

    Building next to Frank Lloyd Wright is a formidable task. This addition shows that the key to honoring the original vision of an architect of such stature is not to mimic what is there, but to engage profundly in an thoughtful architectural conversation with the elder, honoring history while making it anew.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Architect Michael J. Crosbie is chair of the University of Hartford's Department of Architecture, editor-in-chief of Faith & Form magazine, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.   More by Michael J. Crosbie



    ArchWeek Image

    The sweeping curve of the latest Meeting House addition extends roughly southeast from a previous addition, culminating in a covered entry porch.
    Photo: © The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc./ Mark Heffron Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Site plan drawing of the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, Madison, Wisconsin. As part of the recent project, The Kubala Washatko Architects designed a renovation of the church's existing B Wing (1964) and C Wing (1990). Part of the latter was demolished to make way for the latest addition, also known as the D Wing.
    Photo: © The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    The new double-height worship space includes a small mezzanine and is glazed on two sides, with views back toward the foyer and into a courtyard on its southeastern side.
    Photo: © The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc./ Mark Heffron Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Sectional diagram of the auditorium's heating and cooling system, including hydronic heat exchange and natural ventilation.
    Photo: © The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    The foyer of the new worship space also serves as the main circulation spine for the addition.
    Photo: © The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc./ Zane Williams Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Lower-floor plan drawing of the new Meeting House addition (D Wing) and the remodeled B and C Wings.
    Photo: © The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    The main structural system of the new wing consists primarily of unmilled wood columns and laminated wood beams.
    Photo: © The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc./ Zane Williams Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Where it connects to the B Wing and the remaining portion of the C Wing, the new addition defines a courtyard.
    Photo: © The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc./ Zane Williams Extra Large Image


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