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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

GreenBiz: Cedarburg architects keep green tradition strong with work on Wright building


By Gregg Hoffmann
Frank Lloyd Wright helped put Wisconsin on the map for architects with his work. Today, much of Wright’s work would be considered “green.”

The Kubala Washatko Associates Inc. (TKWA), a Cedarburg-based firm, is continuing that green tradition, and recently won national recognition for its addition to a work by the master himself.

The firm’s work on a 20,000 square foot addition to the First Unitarian Society Meeting House in Madison, completed in 2008, recently was selected to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Projects in the country.

Wright designed the original meeting house, which is on the National Historic Landmark list, in 1951.The addition had to be designed to not only be historically sensitive, but also “sustainably innovative.”

Strategies used by TKWA included the extensive use of recycled and regional materials, innovative thermal comfort systems, generous day lighting and natural ventilation, detailed storm water management planning and careful sourcing of energy-saving fixtures. The project also was awarded a LEED Gold rating by the U.S. Green Building Council.

TKWA worked closely with the congregation, Wright historians and experts from the State Historical Society and elsewhere and environmental experts on the project. “The three-party peer review process helped create a most compatible addition that beautifully complements Wright’s architecture,” said John G. Thorpe, a restoration architect and an AIA Peer Review Panel member.

“Both the process and the product are excellent models for future additions in landmark buildings in general and those of Frank Lloyd Wright in particular.”

Wayne Reckard of TKWA said the Madison project was a challenge and a joy for the firm. “The congregation is made up of highly-educated people, many from the faculty of the University of Wisconsin,” he said. “They wanted to have input and were a joy to work with. Working with the experts from around the country on Wright and the history also was a great experience.”

Specific challenges were presented by the topography around the meeting house and the need to blend the design with the historic original building.

“The slope is such that there was runoff from the site to neighbors, and the congregation members wanted to address that,” Reckard said. “We did that with a green roof to reduce runoff, landscaping features that added natural retention and other techniques.

“We were very sensitive to the concerns about maintaining the integrity of the original building. We sort of calmed everything down on the additio and created a curve that led back into the original.”

The project was a natural for TKWA, which embraces a design philosophy of “wholeness” -- an approach similar to that of Wright.

“Wholeness emphasizes that the build environment supports and enhances both human activity and natural living systems,” the TKWA web site reads, which was echoed by Reckard.

“The idea of sustainability and green design is a natural extension of wholeness-based thinking and is integrated into every project,” Reckard said.

TKWA was founded in 1980 by Tom Kubala and Allen Washatko, who remain very active in the firm and played principal roles in the Madison project. In 2006, TKWA received the AIA Firm Award, the highest honor given by the state’s professional service organization.

Over the years, TKWA has earned more than 90 state and national design awards. In fact, it won the same honor it received for the Madison project for the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, completed in 2007.

Other TKWA projects include the Alterra Corporate Headquarters, Cedarburg Performing Arts Center, nature centers in the Chippewa Valley and Cincinnati, the Harley Davidson University and HD York Tour Center, the J.W. Speaker Corporate Headquarters, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the Schlitz Audubon Center and many others in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S.

TKWA also has established a presence in Costa Rica with the Rincon Master Plan.

“The desire for sustainable architecture has grown a great deal in recent years,” Reckard said. “More people just aren’t looking for an iconic building, but one that also relates to the people who will be in the building and around it, the neighborhood, the ecology.”

The First Unitarian project definitely fits that description. It also was not the only Wisconsin project to be listed in those Top 10 Green Projects. The OS House, a single family residence in Racine, also made the list.

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He writes the GreenBiz column monthly.

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