First Unitarian Society Meeting House

The East Courtyard pictured in the photo helps absorb stormwater runoff and provides outdoor views from the atrium auditorium, music room, and main entrance.


  • Location: Madison, Wisconsin
  • Building type(s): Other
  • 91% new construction, 9% renovation of a historic building
  • 24,300 ft2 (2,260 m2)
  • Project scope: a single building
  • Urban setting
  • Completed September 2008
  • Rating: U.S. Green Building Council LEED-NC, v.2.2--Level: Gold

How do you add to a national treasure?

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. Completed in 1951, the original Meeting House has been hailed as one of the world's most innovative examples of church architecture.

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.

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 the congregation's deeply held environmental values.

The 20,000 ft2 addition includes a 500-seat auditorium that triples existing seating capacity, plus office, meeting, kitchen, fellowship, and music rehearsal space.

The completed addition reflects a contemporary expression of Wright's idea of an Organic Architecture. Together, the new and the old create a whole that is in harmony with its surroundings and the environment.

Environmental Aspects

The architects developed four key criteria that guided all design decisions:

  • Build in the spirit of the original, yet refrain from historic mimicry.
  • See the Meeting House and addition as a coherent whole.
  • Use geometry that reinforces the iconic power of the landmark building.
  • Advance Wright's integration of buildings with natural systems.

The success of this project lies not in any single design technology, but with the integration of sustainable thinking and technical solutions in a forward-looking, historically sensitive, and beautifully crafted building that responds to the social needs and spiritual aspirations of those who enter.

Recognizing the historical significance of the original Meeting House, the architects 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.

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned by First Unitarian Society of Madison
  • Typically occupied by 2 people, 40 hours per person per week; and 658 visitors per week, 2 hours per visitor per week


Simulation, Commissioning, Performance measurement and verification, Operations and maintenance, Transportation benefits, Open space preservation, Stormwater management, Drought-tolerant landscaping, HVAC, Lighting control and daylight harvesting, Efficient lighting, Durability, Recycled materials, Local materials, Certified wood, C&D waste management, Connection to outdoors, Daylighting, Natural ventilation, Ventilation effectiveness, Thermal comfort, Noise control, Low-emitting materials

Photo credit: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. / Zane Williams

next topic:
Go to next topic: Process
Last updated: 4/14/2011

Case Studies Database provided by the U.S. Department of Energy's
Building Technology Program, High Performance Buildings.

Submit your green design project. Follow the directions here.


Denver, CO

Las Vegas, NV