Historic Charleston Church Welcomes Members To “Green” Sunday School

The new addition rests easily between the historic structures.
The new addition rests easily between the historic structures.

July 28, 2008 (CHARLESTON, SC) — “This is our generation’s contribution and a lasting testament to being sensitive to the church, the city, and the earth,” said Dr. Stephen Cofer-Shabica, chairman of the building committee task force, when the thoroughly “green” addition to the oldest church in Charleston, South Carolina was recently completed.

Designed by Raleigh, NC-based architect Frank Harmon, FAIA, the addition to the ca. 1681 Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street was carefully sited on an isolated section of the historic churchyard. Its “green” features include geothermal ground coupled heat pumps, underground cisterns to collect water for irrigating the church grounds, an extensive vegetated roof to collect and filter rainwater and help mitigate the  “heat island” effect, recycled building materials wherever possible, open-air porches, and careful window placement to maximize natural lighting and ventilation.

According to Harmon, the church leaders and congregation not only welcomed sustainable design and environmental stewardship, they demanded it.

“The Building Committee asked us to design the most sustainable, 21st century Sunday School addition possible in the city, with the smallest possible footprint to respect and complement the beauty of the historic grounds,” Harmon said.  “The project also called for renovating the existing Lance Hall [1856], and making both structures fully accessible for the first time in the church’s long history.”

With the building committee, Harmon determined that a two-story, 3000-square-foot addition could comfortably accommodate the church’s needs with the least impact on the campus. The building’s L-shaped configuration then created a Meditation Garden and a Children’s Courtyard. A broad, covered porch overlooks the garden and serves as an open-air hallway to make the most of natural light and ventilation in the new building.

Programmatically, the new building provides four classrooms, additional restrooms, and an elevator that effectively makes both this building and historic Lance Hall fully handicapped-accessible.  Lance Hall’s renovations provide a larger nursery and a dedicated adult meeting room.

Harmon noted that materials common to Charleston construction for over 200 years were ideal for this building: wood siding, stucco on masonry, heart-pine flooring and trim (recycled), and steel railings painted “Charleston green.” He combined this system with concrete and glass block.

The building’s siting, shallow depth, operable windows, and porches also echo vernacular methods for bringing natural light and cross-ventilation into the building.

Applying principles that have been around for centuries allows new construction to be both sustainable and familiar, Harmon said: “The addition to Lance Hall has all these wonderful, efficient, green systems, but you don’t have to know that to like it. Just as playing beside a stream can be the greatest learning experience because it is unconscious, so the addition to Lance Hall will teach by experience. Children and visitors will learn about sustainability simply by being here.”

In a recent article in AIArchitecture, Michael J. Crosbie, chairman of the Architecture Department at the University of Hartford and editor of Faith & Form magazine, said the building committee’s demand for a “green” addition didn’t surprise him.

“For most religious congregations, stewardship is a key part of their mission,” he wrote.
“This is why religious clients are more and more receptive to sustainable design ideas.”

This spring, the new Sunday School facility received the Robert N.S. and Patti Foos Whitelaw Founder Award from the Historic Charleston Foundation.

Frank Harmon is a recognized leader in the field of sustainable design. For more information, visit http://www.frankharmon.com.


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