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The lower walls and floors are made of white oak salvaged from barns across Maryland.


Quaker Meeting House

Washington, D.C.

Between Silence and Light: In Washington, D.C., a KieranTimberlake-designed meeting house for adolescents embraces the Quaker values of simplicity and beauty.

By Alanna Malone
March 2012
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After students at the Sidwell Friends School pass through the entry lobby of their new Quaker Meeting House, the laughter and chatter begin to die down as they set aside their backpacks and file into the space. The kids take their seats on long wooden benches arranged facing the center and silently begin the Quaker meeting for worship, a weekly practice that involves 45 minutes of quiet reflection. No visitor to the school would ever guess that the serene, light-filled worship area is actually the former school gymnasium.


Location Washington, D.C. (between Rock Creek and Glover Archbold watersheds)

Gross area 33,325 ft2 (3,096 m2)

Completed May 2011

Cost $8.7 million

Annual purchased energy use (based on simulation) 63 kBtu/ft2 (714 MJ/m2), 26% reduction from base case

Annual carbon footprint (predicted) 22 lbs. Co2/ft2 (107 kg CO2/m2)

Program Quaker Meeting House, music and art rooms


Curtain wall YKK, YCW 750 SSG; YKK, YWW 45TU

Wood Middle Valley Lumber, black locust planks

Doors Marshfield Door Systems, FSC flush wood doors

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Quaker Meeting House
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Philadelphia-based firm KieranTimberlake, which has worked on multiple projects around the Washington, D.C.–based school campus, led the adaptive reuse project. "The fundamental question for us was how to form architecture about silence and light, and do so in a way that would reflect everything that culture believes in regarding sustainability," explains Stephen Kieran of KieranTimberlake. The 22,940-square-foot building is now targeting LEED-Platinum certification, and serves as the central building on the school grounds, connecting the upper and lower campuses. Mike Saxenian, assistant head and CFO of the school, lauds the project: "Students have commented on how important it is to have this space—they really do appreciate it." In addition to a beautiful worship area, the program includes a variety of art studios and music practice rooms where the locker rooms and support spaces used to be.

When the firm originally devised the school's master plan a decade ago, it intended to build an entirely new structure for the Meeting House. "We tested a variety of locations before it landed back in the Kenworthy Gymnasium," says Kieran. While there were concerns about the aesthetic difficulties of transforming a gymnasium into a quiet room for reflection, the school ultimately agreed with the decision.

The minimal, simple, and elegant aesthetic of Quakerism dominated the design. "The challenge was to try to create a modern space of the 21st century that embraced historic Quaker traditions," says Jason Smith of KieranTimberlake. The firm spent a lot of time looking at Quaker architecture and talking to the school about Quakerism.

The bones of the brick structure remain, but the front facade and courtyard were redesigned. The plaza was redone with pervious pavers, landscaping, and small porticoes adjacent to the Meeting House and the adjoining Kogod Center for the Performing Arts. "This courtyard was an opportunity to provide the exterior garden as a kind of corollary to the interior lobby, to have an outdoor venue for events, and to collect the buildings into one common vocabulary," says Smith. The new entry lobby for the Meeting House features floor-to-ceiling glazing to allow for views of the new garden and plaza. The lobby is the transition area for students to gather, greet their friends, and settle down before their time of reflection.

An important part of Quaker meetings is the chance for any participant to stand up and speak their mind. Whether it's about a family issue, a moral dilemma, or a global concern, all are encouraged to speak freely and openly, so while the room must be designed for the absolute silence necessary for reflection, one voice must also be heard by all. "We had excellent collaboration with the engineers to develop a noise control strategy that used silencers, internal duct lining, and careful attention to air velocities, duct routing, and diffuser selection to achieve appropriate background noise in all spaces," says Eric Seifert from acoustical consultant K2 Audio.

The ceiling and upper walls of the Meeting House are clad in white acoustical plaster, and the lower walls, floors, and benches are made from white oak. "The design of the building, while complex from a systems standpoint, still tries to hark back to the idea of simple spaces and materials," says Smith. Some of the benches are arranged on risers, which draws on traditional Quaker Meeting House design and also makes the room feel "less boxy," according to Smith. The risers also help sight lines for an audience when the room is used for small concerts and other events.

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The first floor plan was removed from the article at the client's request. 2013-02-06 10:27:20 EST
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