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California Canyon-Side Church Gets Whole Campus Renovation

The goal of universal accessibility comes to life at San Diego's First Unitarian Universalist

By Church Designer Staff   •  February 28, 2014 11:31 am EST

Tags: bioclimatic design, green, renovation, sustainability,

Perched on an urban canyon side in San Diego, a new welcome center and whole campus renovation were designed for the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego with the purpose and principles of universal accessibility, social interaction, and environmental stewardship. Local Platt/Whitelaw Architects Inc. was the project architect, and San Francisco-based Swinerton Builders was the general contractor. Construction manager was Southern Cross Property Consultants of San Diego.

The congregation has occupied the 7.5-acre site since the late 1950s, in a suite of buildings first constructed in 1958. The old 6,300-square-foot Bard Hall building had aged badly, and after a comprehensive rehabilitation study the church determined that a new and larger Bard Hall and a renovated campus would better serve the congregation’s needs.

The new campus path winds gently down and through the site, linking the functional and cultural elements of the site. Monuments by local artists and colorful native plants follow a dry creek bed, lined with cobble retrieved from the construction, which collects and filters rainwater on the site. Where a ramp and stair once segregated congregants by their physical ability, now a graceful walk joins all visitors together.

The path leads to the central plaza, which provides a setting for both the iconic 1958 meeting hall and the new 8,700-square-foot welcome center, which responds to the older structure’s form. The plaza is composed of low-solar heat gain pavers that filter storm water and feed it to the retention area under the permeable auto turnaround, which filters and slowly feeds the entire site’s storm water into the canyon below.

Nature's connection

The new welcome center opens to the plaza with a glazed storefront that visually connects interior and exterior. The main interior gathering space, Bard Hall, features generous daylighting and natural ventilation. Polished concrete floors provide an elegant finish without the application of additional finish materials. A green screen curves around the southwestern façade of the hall, veiling it from excessive insolation.

The group meeting spaces at a Unitarian Universalist Church are as important as its sacred spaces, and the new welcome center provides a variety of new accessible meeting rooms of different sizes with daylighting, natural ventilation, and environmentally friendly materials.

Taken together, the new welcome center and campus renovations provide a spiritual and social setting that supports the Unitarian Universalist community and its principles, all within a modest construction budget. The project was completed in 2012.

First Unitarian Universalist Church, San Diego:

Platt/Whitelaw Architects Inc.:

Southern Cross Property Consultants:

Swinerton Builders:

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