Posted in projects on July 1, 2017 2:13 pm EDT

Case Study: Building on the Legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright

A look at the expansion of a HOW national treasure in Wisconsin

The Kubala Washatko Architects Inc. design team concluded that a curve was the most simple and quiet gesture that could be made in response to the intense geometry already present on the site of the historic Wright Meeting House near Madison, Wis.











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TAGS: bioclimatic design, green, sustainability,


By Wayne Reckard

[Editor's note: This story is from Church Designer's 2015 project archives.]

In fall 2008, the First Unitarian Society of Madison completed a major new addition to its Frank Lloyd Wright-designed National Historic Landmark Meeting House. Originally commissioned by the First Unitarian Society in1946 and completed in 1951, the Wright Meeting House has been hailed as one of the world's most innovative examples of church architecture. In 1960 the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects (AIA) designated it one of 17 buildings to be retained as an example of Wright's contribution to American culture.

In recent years, the First Unitarian Society has grown to become one of the largest Unitarian congregations in the United States. This growth, along with ongoing architectural tours by visitors from around the world, placed increasing demands on the iconic structure.

Debating expansion options

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 landscape and hemmed in potential facility expansion. Overtures to move to a more expansive suburban location had always met resistance. Ultimately, the congregation wished to retain its intimate physical and emotional connection to Wright’s magnificent worship space.

For nearly a decade the congregation debated the most appropriate course of action. As stewards of this historic building, the congregation wished to maintain the integrity of Wright's original design, provide space for expanded daily needs, and align construction with its deeply held environmental values.

Peer review process

Recognizing the historical significance of the original Meeting House, studio of record The Kubala Washatko Architects Inc. (TKWA) of Cedarburg, Wis., outside Milwaukee, convened a unique design peer review group comprised of nationally recognized Wright experts. The group met to identify key issues in the design of a new addition and to assess its impact on the historic building and site. Although TKWA was responsible for all design decisions, the peer review offered a valuable sounding board and confirmation of the appropriateness of major design choices. The peer review process also helped build consensus within the congregation and among the broader historic preservation community.  continued >>