Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon builds a new home and a solid purpose.
Authenticity is a buzzword in American culture, and to be authentic is an aspiration for brands, people and buildings, too. Many fail at this pursuit, but not Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon (UUFCO). Located in Bend, Ore., the congregation’s New Home, as it’s been dubbed, is a 2015 Faith & Form/Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture (IFRAA) award winner, as well as a model of purpose, integrity, and yes, authenticity, in design. IFRAA is a knowledge network of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) based in Washington, D.C., and made up of architect members across the nation.
"The entire cedar ceiling is micro-perforated to cut down on the amount of reflected sound, and gaps were left in the grout of the stone walls to allow sound to pass through to a sound absorbing wall placed behind."
—Corey Martin, Principal, Hacker Architects, Portland, OR
A grove of Ponderosa pines stood out as a natural focal point. The building was oriented toward it and placed east to west for ideal solar exposure.
In 2011, land among Bend’s volcanic high desert landscape was anonymously donated to the congregation. These 22 acres are not only the site, but also the inspiration for and an extension of the facility, intentions set early on by UUFCO, even as it selected an architect. During an atypical interview process—an all-day interactive workshop—Portland, Ore.-based Hacker Architects constructed portable sandboxes, filled them with iconic central Oregon flora and fauna, and then invited the UUFCO design committee to use those materials to build conceptual models of the desired building.
Once hired, Hacker used those same models to lead visioning workshops with UUFCO, resulting in 14 aspirations for the finished project, all of them emphasizing inclusion, connectedness and respect for the environment. According to Corey Martin, principal with Hacker, those aspirations were further distilled into three questions that would inform the design: How can Unitarian principles inform the geometry of the design? How can the natural processes of central Oregon inspire the building? How can we intensify our connection to the landscape from within the building? Answers in Design
“Just locating the building on the site was a super involved process in terms of daylighting and locating the parking lot,” says Martin of the care taken with the never developed site.
Ultimately, a grove of Ponderosa pines stood out as a natural focal point. The building was oriented toward it and placed east to west for ideal solar exposure. The parking lot winds through the trees like a campground road—a measure taken to safeguard trees and the native landscape, according to Martin. “Burned and snagged trees were saved and relocated,” he says. “And we returned the native ground cover so [the site] doesn’t even look landscaped.”
The building itself is clad in three different stains of cedar to achieve a weathered look, and its rectangular shape is fractured to resemble a log fallen in nature. “We shifted those fractures to create fingers reaching out into the landscape, as well as negative spaces where the landscape reaches in,” shares Martin.
The facility’s design also symbolizes the inclusiveness, exploration and community UUFCO strives to embody.
The design tells of UUFCO’s respect for nature in manifold ways. On the south side of the building, a dramatic angular roof overhang sits atop a mass wall—a partnership that reduces heat gain in summer and promotes it in winter months. The same wall’s maze of window frames is a network of operable windows supporting a natural ventilation system. “Lower windows on the north side pull cool air through to high windows on the south to cool the building,” explains Martin.
The facility’s design also symbolizes the inclusiveness, exploration and community UUFCO strives to embody. “Our building feels open, welcoming and inviting even as you approach it,” notes Dale Clark, head of UUFCO’s Design Committee.
The interior spaces are covered in clear-coated cedar with curving accent walls of stone mimicking the lava flows seen throughout central Oregon. A walk up the entry hall brings one into the main gathering space where the south-facing wall of windows and doors spill onto the terrace and draw natural light into every corner of the room.
Ceiling-high carved wood doors separate the gathering hall from the sanctuary, but can be left open to create expanded seating capacity, according to Clark and Martin.
Fixtures in spaces with daylight availability dim with increasing sun to use minimum electric energy.
The sanctuary space is ethereal and light-filled. Its sidewalls are predominantly glass, with north windows overlooking the preserved Ponderosa grove. Cedar planks run the length of the ceiling until interrupted by the angular framework of a high skylight above the platform. Then, the cedar continues down the wall behind the choir risers.
“[It was] suggested the sanctuary be designed to ‘take it all in at once’—to elicit an almost visceral feeling,” says Clark. “It has the feeling of a spiritual space, even without the elements of classical religious architecture.”
The 250-seat sanctuary’s flat, polished concrete floor makes seating modification easy. In its dual purpose as a community performance center, the space has accommodated a choir of 60 on stage, an orchestra of 30 on the floor, and 230 seated guests.Harnessing Sound
However, achieving the acoustic requirements to balance concert quality music with the spoken word and congregational singing presented a myriad of challenges, says Tobin Cooley, president of Seattle-based Listen Acoustics, the AV and acoustic consulting firm on the project.
“This client had very specific goals and we had to work closely alongside Hacker’s design to make the space sound the way the congregation wanted it to,” Cooley says.
A variety of solutions made achieving that balance a reality. “The entire cedar ceiling is micro-perforated to cut down on the amount of reflected sound, and gaps were left in the grout of the stone walls to allow sound to pass through to a sound absorbing wall placed behind,” says Martin.
“The window wall was a huge challenge, as well,” adds Cooley. “It started out flat, which is always difficult to diffuse and avoid sound reflections, so we stepped the wall to variegate the geometry and created a surface that would diffuse and absorb sound.”
UUFCO's sanctuary seating is just as unique and timeless as the building itself. The Howe 40/4 chair, designed by David Rowland, is functional art— 40 chairs stack neatly to a height of four feet, befitting the model name 40/4.
The oversized doors also play an integral role in the acoustics of the sanctuary space. “In a typical sanctuary, the back wall is a problem because it’s flat and reflects sound. To top it off, we had this feature that was necessary and opened up to an area we wanted to sound separate,” says Cooley.