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The Kubala Washatko Architects- First Unitarian Society Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 May 2011 10:44

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The architects had the sensitive, and honorable task of building a major new addition to Frank Lloyd Wright-designed National Historic Landmark Meeting House. Completed in 1951, the original Meeting House has been hailed as one of the world's most innovative examples of Church Architecture.
FUS-Curve-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsThe gently curving arc of the new addition reflects back to the iconic Meeting House
Image credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams

Located in an urban, residential neighborhood near the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the First Unitarian Society attracts a large and diverse membership.  In recent years, the First Unitarian Society of Madison has become one of the largest Unitarian congregations in the United States. This growth, along with ongoing architectural tours by visitors from around the world, has placed increasing demands on the original historic structure. While wishing to maintain the integrity of Wright's original design, the community wanted to provide space for expanded daily needs, and align construction with the congregation's deeply held environmental values.

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Edited by Lynda Waggoner



FUS-Wright-el-hr_Mark-HeffronOriginal Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House
Image credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Mark Heffron
Although now engulfed by the City of Madison, when erected Wright’s ‘country church’ was sited on a sandy knoll overlooking university farmland and Lake Mendota. Encroaching development has significantly altered the surrounding ecology and hemmed in potential facility expansion.

In recent years, overtures to move to a more expansive location had always been resisted. Ultimately, the congregation wished to retain its intimate physical and emotional connection to Wright’s magnificent worship space. Equally importantly, the congregation members shared a commitment to avoid disturbing a greenfield site.

Site-planSite plan Courtesy of The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc

FUS-From-East-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsThe new building design takes advantage of the steeply sloping southern end of the site. A rain garden in the foreground helps retain virtually all stormwater on site.
Image credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams

The 20,000 ft2 built addition includes a 500-seat auditorium that triples existing seating capacity, plus office, meeting, kitchen, fellowship, and music rehearsal space. The completed addition is intended as a contemporary expression of Wright's idea of an Organic Architecture. Together, the new and the old should create a whole that is in harmony with its surroundings and the environment.

FUS-Entrance-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsImage credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams

FUS-Roof-Curve-With-Sky-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsBuilding's south wall
Image credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams


The architectural team initiated its design process by developing an extensive written pattern language that identified key issues in the design of the building; a tool intended as a translation of the congregation’s desires for sustainability, functionality, and historic sensitivity into clear, achievable design goals. The written patterns documented in easily understood language why design decisions were made and helped achieved congregation unity on a plan for moving forward. Still, the architects tested more than fifteen design iterations before identifying the final solution.

In Wright's original Meeting House, the diamond and the triangle are the dominant geometric shapes. These forms are repeated in endless variation, both large and small, throughout the original design.

The architects for the new addition concluded that a curve was the simplest and quietest gesture that could be made in response the intense geometry already present on the site. The new building addition design is formed by two arcs generated from the site of the historic meeting house pulpit. The crossing design veils the mass of the new auditorium. The new lower roof slopes down to join with the historic meeting house, as well as subtly echoing the original meeting house prow.

Overall, the gently curving arc of the new addition keeps geometric focus on the historic Wright building and reinforces its iconic power. Together, the old and the new create a coherent whole.

FUS-New-Courtyard-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsThe East Courtyard helps absorb stormwater runoff and provides outdoor views from the atrium auditorium, music room, and main entrance.
Image credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams


Environmental Aspects:

Energy Conservation

The new building design is approximately 40% more efficient than a comparable base case facility. This conclusion is based on the original energy design model and reinforced by initial post-occupancy analysis of actual energy use.

The transfer thermal loads via radiant floor heating and cooling instead of through conventional forced-air systems, the use of high-efficiency, multiple-stage, water-to-water geothermal heat pump, high-efficiency glazing and building shell insulation, exhaust fan system used during early summer and fall, contributed to overall building energy performance.

FUS-Green-Roof-Closeup-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsNew addition and its the vegetative roof from the roof of the older B-Wing
Image credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams

Bioclimatic design considerations played an important role. The northern building exposure created an opportunity for expansive floor-to-ceiling glass views back to the Wright Meeting House without adding significant cooling loads. Building overhangs provide additional solar shading. The western exposure was designed to minimize late afternoon solar gain.

Outdoor views to the east from inside the main auditorium were an important program goal; solar gain along this elevation is mitigated by trees and vegetation.

Bioclimatic design for the southern exposure was carefully analyzed. The adjacent property to the south is zoned for five-story commercial use, so potential for loss of a solar window in the future was great. For this reason, the congregation elected not to rely on installation of PV systems or design of solar strategies that could be compromised.

FUS-From-South-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsSouthern exposure allows filtered natural daylight in the atrium auditorium
Image credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams

Materials & Resources

The new building design features recycled-content, locally sourced materials for reinforcing steel, structural steel, concrete, curtainwall glazing and frames, and drywall. Spray-cellulose insulation is made from recycled Wisconsin newspapers.

FUS-Auditorium-Detail-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsImage credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams

Red pine columns prominently featured in the new addition were salvaged from windstorm-felled trees on Menomonee Tribe lands in northern Wisconsin. Other regionally sourced materials include the green roof, wood doors, concrete countertops, and landscaping stone.

The palette of building materials used in construction was designed to be durable and long-lasting, including board-formed concrete walls, stained concrete flooring, stairs, and countertops. Heavy timber structural elements provide both durability and tactile warmth. Exposed, non-vegetated roof areas were covered in copper to weather gracefully over time.

FUS-Auditorium-Main-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsNew 500-seat atrium auditorium
Image credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams

SectionCross section detailing natural air intake and distribution, critical summer solar angle, radiant flooring, and geothermal field
Courtesy of The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc

Indoor Environment

By keeping the new addition building width as narrow as possible—a design approach shared with the original Wright Meeting House—interior spaces are infused with daylight. Interior courtyards were designed to provide daylight, operable windows, and views into gardens. Where space is positioned under the terrace, skylight apertures offer well located sources of natural light.

Views back to the original Meeting House are amplified by placing the addition’s main circulation path along a continuous, north-facing wall of high-performance glass. The continuation of the floor plane into the terrace enhances the connection to outdoor space and assists users in their cognitive mapping of the complex.

FUS-Interior-Crossing-Below-el-hr_Zane-Williams Sustainably harvested red pine columns line the daylight-filled lower crossing and commons area
Image credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams


Water Conservation and Use

Prior to the addition, severe stormwater runoff caused localized flooding of neighboring properties. With the addition completed and landscaping established, virtually all stormwater is now retained on site. No runoff has crossed the property line onto adjacent property. Even during a major, 100-year storm event in 2010, only a nominal amount of stormwater entered the municipal system.
Native and drought-tolerant flora were selected for all landscaping, including the green roof. No irrigation is provided or required.

Building water use has been reduced by 35% over comparable facilities. Strategies include dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals, and low-flow faucets.



FUS-Roof-Detail-el-hr_Zane-WilliamsImage credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams

Project details and credits:

Location: Madison, Wisconsin

Total project cost: (land excluded): $8,000,000

Built area: 24,300 ft2 (2,260 m2), 91% new construction, 9% renovation of a historic building

Rating: U.S. Green Building Council LEED-NC, v.2.2--Level: Gold

Owner/developer: Susan Koenig First Unitarian Society of Madison, Madison, Wisconsin;

Architecture: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc, Cedarburg, Wisconsin,

Team: Tom Kubala, Allen Washatko, Vince Micha,  Ethan Bartos: Architects, Tim Hansmann: Architect (LEED Certification) Wayne Reckard: Marketing Director, Erin Lawrence: Graphic Designer

Landscape: Ken Saiki Design, Inc. Madison, Wisconsin
Susanne Payne: Landscape architect


Affiliated Engineers, Inc. Madison, Wisconsin

Scott Easton: Mechanical engineer (Project Manager), Jerry Packham: Plumbing engineer (Mechanical Engineer, Fire Protection, Lighting), Ken Kozminski: Lighting designer,

Arnold & O'Sheridan Madison, Wisconsin
Robert Corey: Structural engineer,
Steve Whayland: Civil engineer


Madison Environmental Group: Madison, Wisconsin
Christi Weber: Environmental building consultant

Helio Design, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
Mike Utzinger: Energy consultant

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 16:30
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