An Excellent Addition
by Michael J. Crosbie
Designing an appropriate addition to almost any National Historic Landmark should be seen as a challenge. When the landmark building is by Frank Lloyd Wright, the challenge acquires its own dimension in history.
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In their new addition to an American masterpiece of religious architecture Wright's First Unitarian Society Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin The Kubala Washatko Architects has risen beautifully to such a challenge.
The large new annex contains an auditorium, social/ fellowship space, offices, a library, and support spaces. Yet it looks as though it was always meant to be there, showing deference to Wright's opus yet asserting its own quiet identity. In the spirit of Wright's approach to "designing with nature," as he often described it, the Meeting House addition is "green."
The addition has also earned LEED Gold certification and is one of the Top Ten Green Projects chosen for 2011 by the Committee on the Environment (COTE) of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
The new expansion project had a long genesis. Wright's original building was designed in 1946 and completed in 1951. Relatives of the architect had been founding members of this Unitarian congregation, and Wright himself was a member. He designed a facility to accommodate 150 parishioners.
Wright's building is iconic with its triangular glass prism form under a broad A-frame roof, an architectural composition that suggests an abstraction of Albrecht Dürer's drawing The Hands of the Apostle. That part of the building contains the tall worship space, with a low wing extending to the west containing classrooms and social spaces.
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