Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quaker Meeting House and Arts Center, Sidwell Friends School, Kieran Timberlake, 2013

In a time when too many churches choose gymnasiums as spaces for worship (what does it say about us that we build places that are first for sport and only second for worship?)  it is refreshing to see a project that transforms a gym away from its noisy recreational focus and makes it a contemplative space.

The Sidwell friends Friends School, a K-12 Quaker school in Washington, D.C. converted an existing 1950s gymnasium that had been used as a makeshift worship space for decades into a permanent worship space, with decisions about space, light, and materials inspired by the Quaker tradition.

"Daylight was used to organize the space. The Meeting House is focused on a central focal point illuminated from above, with targeted views to the gardens and soft filtered light also coming through on all sides. The materials palette was limited to only wood and plaster. In old meeting houses wood is often used in places where it may be touched; after centuries, it retains its integrity and character. In the new Meeting House, oak from long-unused Maryland barns was used to line the lower walls and floor. The exterior, too, is clad with black locust harvested from a single source in New Jersey."

In keeping with Quaker tradition, the pews are arranged in a non-hierarchical, four-square manner; there is no 'front' or 'back' in the gathering of friends.

The project by Kieran Timberlake used 'minimal means' and organized itself around the central symbolism of a skylight providing illumination both literal and physical.

It received an Institute Honor Award for 2014 from the American Institute of Architects.

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