New Sidwell Quaker Meeting House Wins Architecture Award

With a minimum of means, Sidwell Friends School, a K-12 Quaker school in Washington, D.C., transformed a 1950s gymnasium into a contemplative space for worship, with additional facilities for art and music instruction. The gymnasium had been used as a makeshift worship space for more than a decade; its location on campus was ideal, its acoustics and architecture were not. The project won an Institute Honor Award for 2014 from the American Institute of Architects. 

Since the essence of Quaker Meeting, and thus the Meeting House itself, is silence and light, architect Kieran Timberlake was attentive to Friends traditions in selection of materials and design. Architecturally this was achieved by filtering light and sound through architecture, landscape, structure, and systems arranged in successive concentric layers around a central source of illumination, both literal and spiritual.
How were 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. Old meeting houses use wood in places where it may be touched, notes Timberlake. In the new Sidwell Friends Meeting House, oak reclaimed from Maryland barns was used to line the lower walls and floor. The exterior is clad with black locust harvested from a single source in New Jersey. In addition to the abundant daylight, a photovoltaic array on a southern facing roof covers more than 40 percent of the building’s energy demands. The front façade was modified, too, to extend meetings out into the Sidwell Friends School campus. A porch and garden connect the building to the plaza in front of it, a site-planning move also inspired by Quaker tradition, Timberlake notes. Read more about Kieran Timberlake's architectural practice. See more pictures of the school at the American Institute of Architect's website.

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