The Unitarian congregation of Summit New Jersey currently gathers in a small neo-classical chapel on a downtown corner lot. Confronted with the need and desire to have all congregants gather together at one service, they embarked on an expansion project to create a new 400 person sanctuary on an adjacent lot. Unitarian Universalism has a rich architectural history of spiritual places throughout the world that expresses their principals and this project is to enrich that lexicon.
Inspired by the primordial natural world, upon which the principals of Unitarian Universalism is based, we designed a new sanctuary and fellowship hall as a metaphor for the landscape. Like a clearing in the wilderness set beneath an ephemeral sky, the walls, ceiling and floor are re-creations of the sky, the forest and the earth and their materials convey associations to their landscape metaphor. Chief among these materials are hand crafted cast aluminum panels that enclose the sanctuary. The surface of these panels are textured with irregular concave and convex patterns that reflect and diffuse sunlight filtering from an oculus above and thus changing appearance with the sunlight throughout the course of the day. A contemplation garden surrounds the sanctuary on this urban site. Along the main street, a new glass façade with white ceramic coating creates a veil-like appearance that is warm and welcoming to the community, yet still allows for some privacy. In addition to the sanctuary, the facility houses a fellowship hall, welcome center, community kitchen and an exterior contemplation garden.