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First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin

Expanding a landmark

A green addition to Frank Lloyd Wright's landmark Unitarian church in Madison.
By Sonja L. Cohen
Spring 2009 2.15.09

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Building a major church addition that works with the original design and meets the needs of the congregation is never easy. It’s even harder when that church is a National Historic Landmark designed by one of America’s greatest architects. But the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin’s new green addition to its 1951 Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House proves it can be done successfully.

The new addition (left side) curves back to connect to the original Wright building (right side), neither mimicking nor overwhelming the historic building. The new portion utilizes many Wright principles, such as striking, sweeping angles and glass walls to work in harmony with the original structure and with the natural landscape.

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building’s eco-friendly innovations include: a live roof system integrating a layer of plants and soil to reduce urban heat increases, extensive windows utilizing natural light, low water-use plumbing fixtures, and a geothermal heating and cooling system.

The total price tag, including restoration work to the Wright portion, was almost $10 million, paid for primarily through a capital campaign and some previous gifts earmarked for building projects, said the Rev. Michael Schuler, the church’s minister.

The nearly-1,500-member church is already feeling the benefits. The addition doubles the church’s auditorium space and adds previously nonexistent room for socializing. “A lot of people are coming back regularly that we’d only seen sporadically before,” Schuler said. “It’s really strengthened our congregation.”

Photograph by Craig Wilson. See sidebar for links to related resources.

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