The new LiveRoof green roof is as beautiful as it is efficient and the marriage of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright design and the green roof construction will no doubt continue to stand the test of time.
By John Pilmaier, Langer Roofing & Sheet Metal
For Construction Pros.com
Langer Roofing & Sheet Metal, Inc. has installed many green roofs over the years. However, none was more significant, challenging or impressive than the 7,000-square-foot green roof atop the 20,000-square-foot addition to the First Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin.
The First Unitarian Society of Madison commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Meeting House in 1946. Construction began in 1949 and was completed in 1951. Over the years, First Unitarian has become one of the largest Unitarian Universalist congregations in the United States. Its growth necessitated modest additions in 1964 and 1990. With sustained growth and ever-increasing facility use demands, the congregation turned to The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. (TKWA) in 2008 to design an addition that would almost double the total size of the church.
Every building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is, by definition, an architectural treasure, and any project that alters a Frank Lloyd Wright building becomes the focus of intense interest from Wright experts and enthusiasts. John G. Thorpe, a restoration architect in Oak Park, Illinois, and Vice President of The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, once observed that very few additions have ever been constructed on any of Wright’s institutional and commercial buildings. This fact only intensified the spotlight on the First Unitarian project. Moreover, the Meeting House is not just a Frank Lloyd Wright church, but a Wright church that represents a decisive turning point in the history of American church architecture. Thus, the project attracted the scrutiny of people with a passionate interest in church building design.
Why a green roof?
When Wright designed what he called his “country church” for the First Unitarian Society, he sited the Meeting House on a knoll overlooking Lake Mendota and farmland owned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The city and university have grown and expanded over the years so the church now sits in the middle of an intensely urbanized area. There is only one storm sewer drain on the property, which is in the southeast corner. Stormwater runoff from the parking lot on to neighboring property had long been a vexing problem. The larger footprint of the new addition, with such an immense increase in impervious surface, would have made stormwater runoff much worse.
From the start of project planning, all project participants understood that a green roof was essential as the first line of defense in stormwater management. The anticipated volume and velocity of stormwater required a variety of stormwater measures, all starting with a green roof. Other stormwater management measures were also incorporated into the project to assist in rainwater absorption and infiltration, such as an underground infiltration chamber that outflows to two interconnected rain gardens.
Not one, but two, iconic roofs
The original Meeting House features a v-shaped copper roof, which reaches 40 feet in height. It is a prominent architectural element. The design of this roof — with no steeple or spires — stands out in distinct contrast to the customary use of conventional religious elements on roofs in traditional church architecture. Thus, the copper roof on the original building is iconic. By virtue of its size alone, a 7,000-square-foot green roof would be iconic in its own right. It had to be designed so it would not overwhelm or detract from the Meeting House and its original copper roof. Even more, it was desirable that the green roof serve to harmonize the large new addition with the original building.
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*Sal Langer of Langer Roofing & Sheet Metal, Inc is an mrW Tradesmen.