In accepting this award, we acknowledge the members of the UUS and their relentless pursuit of a facility that embodies their values. The design was informed by UUS’s seven pillars and guided by the congregation’s feedback. Through this collaborative process, we created a building that cultivates community and respects the natural world.
Collaborating with the UUS Community
Throughout the UUS’s rich history, its members have advocated for social equity and environmental justice. When they decided to move from their historic downtown location, they wanted their new facility to reflect these values, specifically through accessible and sustainable design. They envisioned a space that welcomed and accommodated individuals of all identities and abilities and made a positive environmental impact, challenging themselves to become “the greenest church in Iowa.”
For Neumann Monson, this was an exciting opportunity to work with an organization whose values aligned so closely with our own. We frequently met with the congregation to host workshops and solicit feedback from all 300 members, making the design process highly collaborative and democratic. Reflecting on the experience, Project Architect Matt Krieger states, “One of the most rewarding aspects of being an architect is working with a client like this—one that trusts your guidance and cares for sustainability as much as you.” Through consistent dialogue, we achieved a deeply community-centered approach to design.
Championing Accessibility and Sustainability
Unitarian Universalism believes in the inherent dignity of every person and advocates for compassion and equity in human relations. As such, the congregation wanted the new facility to be accessible for all, regardless of identity or ability. The single-story building goes above and beyond ADA guidelines. Curb-less parking and flush floor transitions between rooms maximize accessibility. A gender-neutral restroom, wellness room, and an on-site shower are also available. Furthermore, the building is adaptable to the changing needs of its congregation; classrooms double as conference rooms, and the Sanctuary opens to the Fellowship Hall for large gatherings.
In addition to its accessible features, the UUS facility champions sustainable design and achieves the congregation’s goal of becoming “the greenest church in Iowa.” Extra insulation and geothermal systems reduce the building’s energy demands, while its solar arrays contribute to its Net Positive Energy status, meaning it produces more energy than it uses. Building materials, like the naturally-weathing red cedar cladding on the exterior, are incredibly low-maintenance. This attention to detail not only reduces environmental impact but blends the building into its setting, allowing its occupants to reconnect with the natural world. To learn more about the facility’s sustainable features, visit the UUS’ case study.
Cultivating Community through Design
The UUS facility is designed to reduce barriers, both literally and figuratively. Its open design promotes inclusivity and provides a space for people of all identities to connect—all while producing 10% more energy than it uses. At the same time, the facility reduces barriers between people and nature. Vegetable gardens, biking trails, and natural playgrounds dot the property, encouraging outdoor experiences.
When asked how the facility has impacted the USS, Facility Committee member Jeffery Ford states, “Shortly after the building opened, I officiated a memorial service. People gathered from across the country to attend. I cannot adequately express the comfort and embrace they felt as they gathered in the great hall…Their comfort and ease were a tribute to a space both open and embracing.” Through collaborative, democratic design, UUS achieved a space that embodies their values and will allow them to celebrate and spread their message for generations to come. Thank you to our design and construction partners and the UUS congregation whose dedication and vision made this award-winning project possible.