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First Unitarian Universalist

Society of Albany

Location: Albany, New York

Period: 1925

The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany was founded in 1842 and the existing sanctuary was constructed in 1925 in the Georgian Revival Style.  The facility was expanded in 1962 with the addition of an education wing.  The members of the Society had been planning to construct another addition to the facility since the mid-1990’s to house a larger multipurpose gathering space for social functions, musical performances, lectures, and for religious services that exceeded the 200 seat limit of the 1920’s sanctuary.


MCWB was hired in 2002 to provide architectural services for planning, design, preparation of contract documents, and construction administration of the new facility.  Construction commenced early in 2006 and was completed in the summer of 2007.


The building is set in a mixed-scale dense urban context of residential and commercial buildings, and is adjacent to the historic downtown SUNY Albany campus.  The program for the new facility included a new 3,000 square foot multipurpose space that could seat 350 people and also adapt to varying uses and orientations.  The main space was conceived as a 50 foot square and 30 foot high volume with a balcony and peripheral support spaces.  The building is on a busy four-lane street (Washington Avenue); therefore, the plan responds to the need for a buffer from the noise of the street, while providing a message of openness to the public.  Furthermore, the Washington Avenue orientation faces south, as the program called for flooding the room with natural light.  The design solution to achieving these goals involved constructing a mostly solid facade on the street of a contextual red brick material, while opening a large corner window at  a recess in the streetscape created by the 1960’s addition.  This provides three-dimensionality to the facade, introduces significant natural light that can be controlled by shading systems, and provides a “beacon” of light and window to the community.  The interior is also illuminated by a series of carefully arranged clerestory windows that introduce extensive indirect natural light; without glare.


The program also includes a new library space on the second level, new education classrooms, public toilet facilities, and storage on the lower level.  The new addition and the entire adjacent building complex were made ADA accessible with a new elevator accessed by common lobbies on each floor.  The building was designed and constructed in accordance with sustainable LEED principles including the use of AAC masonry units, natural lighting, high recycled content products, energy saving lighting and equipment, and the use of local and salvaged materials.

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