Last week I dicussed options for reducing the amount of water that you use inside your house through adapting your habits and installing fixtures or appliances that are more efficient. This week we need to talk about what goes on outside, because a lot of the water that you use never actually enters your house but instead gets used for irrigating landscaping. This water has been processed to make it safe to use for consumption, which is a much bigger investment of energy than needed. There are a number of sustainable water solutions that address not only reducing the amount of water used for irrigation, but also what you can do with water as it comes to your site (in the form of rain) or leaves your house (as greywater). All of these are important considerations in green building.
Plant native landscaping: The most important thing that you can do to reduce water use for landscaping is to put in native or drought resistant plants. If you are lucky enough to live in Austin, the city provides a great searchable database of plants that are suitable to this area, with information on how much shade and water they need, as well as details on when they bloom, how large they get, and what wildlife might be attracted to them (http://austintexas.gov/department/plants).
If you live elsewhere in Texas or the US, your local nursery should be able to provide you with information about what plants are suitable to your area, or you can find information from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on what plants are appropriate to each state at http://www.wildflower.org/collections/. It used to be difficult to find native plants, but they are making a comeback in many nurseries and are sometimes even available now at big chains, if you know what to look for. If you commit to planting only new plants that have low water needs, you can slowly transition your landscaping to use less and less water. Grass is one of the biggest water consumers, so you may want to consider replacing lawns with landscaped areas that have native grasses, mulch, or stone landscaping.
Harvest your own water: Even drought resistant landscaping still needs a little help sometimes, and you may not be able to give up that last piece of grassy lawn, so even if you do change your landscaping you might also consider collecting water to use for irrigation. Rainwater collection systems can range from simple old barrels under the eaves to fancy underground tanks with their own filtration systems. Many new systems are cropping up in response to increased interest in rainwater collection, so you will have a lot of options to choose from.
If you want to start simple, take a look at your roof and see if there are areas where water is concentrated when it comes off the roof (typically this happens in troughs where two roof pitches come together) and put a rain barrel there that you can use to fill a watering can. If you are interested in taking it a step further, install gutters that direct water into a series of storage tanks. These storage tanks can then be connected to a drip irrigation system for your landscaping, which delivers water directly to plant roots where it is needed rather than putting it on the surface to evaporate. Another great source for water during hotter months is condensate from your air conditioner, which can be collected and used to water plants at the times when they most need it. You can locate the condensate drain in your house and see if there is a way to redirect that water toward areas where it is needed.
Recycle water: The water from showers, sinks, and washers is generally fairly clean and can often be reused with minimal treatment, as long as harsh detergents and cleaners are avoided. Greywater, as it’s called, can be collected, filtered, and used to flush toilets or irrigate landscaping. Installing a private collection and filtration system can be problematic in urban areas with restrictive regulations, but some new neighborhoods in dry areas like Austin and Phoenix are installing greywater collection systems alongside traditional wastewater collection. While this is a step in water conservation that goes beyond what most people are used to, it is likely to become more common and is worth considering, especially in new construction.
If you are building a house, find out what the regulations are regarding greywater in your area, and whether future plans might include developing greywater collection. Consider installing a plumbing system that distinguishes between greywater, which can be treated and reused on-site, and blackwater, which needs to go through a sewage or septic system for treatment. If you are permitted to collect and treat your own greywater, there are a good resources available to help you figure out how to use it, for example http://greywateraction.org/content/about-greywater-reuse. Most greywater can be used directly to irrigate landscaping, but if you generate more than is needed for this or want to reuse the water for other things, you could install a constructed wetland treatment system that also functions as a landscape feature, since certain kinds of plants are particularly good at filtering water and removing the phosphates from detergents.
As the newest member of the Heimsath staff, I have been offered the opportunity to share some of my interests through this blog. Since I am particularly interested in green building, I wanted to kick off with a series on sustainable water solutions. A little background may be helpful to explain my interest in sustainability. I grew up on a farm in Vermont where waste was closely associated with want, and every part of a resource got used to maximum effect. For example, when my dad cut down a tree, every part was designated for some use: the branches to be piled and burned for ash to spread on the fields as fertilizer, the trunk to be sawn into lumber, the scraps from sawing to be used as fuel to boil maple sap into syrup, and the sawdust as bedding for animals, which would in turn be used for fertilizer.
This early training in frugality and careful use of resources developed into an interest in sustainable design and construction, which often seems to me mostly a matter of figuring out the most efficient and sensible way to do things. While in graduate school I worked for the UT Center for Sustainable Design developing materials to educate students about different sustainable design strategies, and I have found opportunities to use this knowledge since then in practice. I hope that this information will be helpful to you as you consider how you wish to integrate elements of sustainable design into your lifestyle or project.
SUSTAINABLE WATER SOLUTIONS
We have been lucky enough to get some rain this week in central Texas, which has served as a reminder that water is a rare and increasingly precious commodity in this area and throughout much of the west, as the drought conditions map from the national weather service indicates (this map is updated weekly and can be viewed at: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/). Growing populations combined with long-term drought are making water conservation an increasingly urgent issue. While the southwest has historically seen major droughts in decade-long cycles, recent dry conditions are unprecedented. If extended periods of drought continue, it will be difficult for much of the southwest to support current population levels, let alone continue to grow. Even in areas where plenty of water is available, treating and distributing it can be expensive and energy intensive, providing another incentive to reduce consumption. While some strategies for reducing water consumption have been around for a long time, growing concerns about water conservation have encouraged the development of more products and options. There are a number of strategies that you can employ to make your home use water more efficiently, many of which are simple and easily implemented. Part 1 will look at things that you can do inside your house, while Part 2 will address options for landscaping and water treatment.
Awareness and patterns of use: The habits that you develop surrounding water use have a huge impact on your rate of water consumption. For example: do you leave the faucet running when you shave or brush your teeth? Changing this one habit could save hundreds of gallons per year. Doing laundry or running your dishwasher only when you have a full load can also save water. In some cases, doing dishes by hand might be more water efficient than using a dishwasher, especially if you only have a few dishes. Long showers or large baths can also use up more water than needed. In all of these cases, changing your habits can result in substantial savings without changing anything about your living space.
Low flow fixtures: While this may seem obvious, many people don’t realize what a difference it can make. It is easy to retrofit existing faucets and showers with aerators and low-flow showerheads for immediate results, and a multitude of great options exist for choosing new fixtures. Using low flow fixtures alone can reduce water usage by 25% - 60% annually. While some of these products have been around for a while, a much greater range of appliances and fixtures is now available, in a variety of styles and functions. Some innovations may seem strange at first, but offer practical alternatives that can be implemented right away. For example, if the water from your sink could be used to flush your toilet, using the water twice before it goes into the sewer system, why not allow your sink to drain into your toilet? Products have been developed that integrate a sink into a toilet tank cover, allowing water to drain directly into the toilet bowl. An example can be seen at http://sinkpositive.com/site/home/, although there are several other products available as well. All of these options can allow you to incrementally replace or update fixtures in your house, or choose a set of fixtures for a new project that can start it out at a great baseline.
Recirculate: Typically our hot water heaters are a long way from our faucets and showers, so we spend a long time running the water and waiting for it to get hot while all of the water that was sitting in the pipes gets wasted. Installing a recirculating pump can solve this problem. When turned on, the pump sends the cold water that was in the pipes back to the hot water heater to get warmed up, while bringing hot water up to the faucet for you to use immediately. A number of these products are available and they are becoming more popular, so your plumber should be familiar with installing them. It is often possible to install them inside the cabinet of an existing sink – consult your plumber to see if this is an option if you are interested in retrofitting.
Next week: Ideas for sustainable water solutions for landscaping and water treatment.
Many of our clients are interested in green building but still are not sure if it is worth it. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about green building:
What is green building? Can it be practical?
Green building, or sustainable design, refers to a growing concern with maximizing efficiency and reducing waste and energy consumption. While many ideas are still in the experimental stages, there are many green building techniques that have already become established and can be considered best practices in the general building industry.
The recently completed Purple Heron Residence in Austin, Texas was awared the highest 5-star rating from Austin's Green Building Program.
The focus on green design and construction seems like a recent phenomenon, but has deep historic roots. Pioneers in places like Texas built efficiently with local materials to maximize comfort without electricity or air conditioning, and with limited heating. While innovators continue to develop a dizzying array of new products and technologies, some of the best residential green building ideas are time-honored and practical solutions. These have worked for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years.
Do Green Buildings have to look "high tech?"
No! Green building does not have a style. Green building is the concept of building environmentally sensitive buildings that use less energy, provide more comfortable living spaces, and use less (and less toxic) materials. This begins by designing your building to take advantage of and work in tune with your natural surroundings—solar, wind, trees, and topography. It may be a coincidence that a lot of the younger designers promoting green building have produced very contemporary homes. These designs can be quite beautiful, but when green features are promoted, many people get the false impression that green design must also be contemporary.
Looking at historic or traditional houses in your area will often show you what works. For example, in hot central Texas, we see porches that offer spaces for outdoor living while shading walls and windows. Many homes have high ceilings with ceiling fans, and large double-hung windows to coax in the breezes.
In northern climates, w
here cold is an issue, steep roofs help keep snow from piling up, and smaller windows help limit drafts. Basements extend foundations below the frost line. Fireplaces (usually placed on interior walls) also help keep houses warm. Instead of screened porches, exterior rooms are often enclosed with glass to form 'sunrooms' for cold winter days.
A good architect can work with green building concepts and come up with just about any style you desire. A glass box in the Alaskan tundra may not be the best concept, but most styles can be developed and built to work efficiently and comfortably in your climate. This farmhouse has a rainwater tank that has been in use for over four decades. Can't wait for all our Green Building FAQ's? We've assembled responses to the most frequently asked questions about Residential Green Buidling. Download your answers here.
In our hot, humid climate, the best way to beat the heat is to get some shade. For residential architecture, porches, awnings, and trellises are the classic shading devices. There also are tents, and canopies that use fabric materials for shading. A relatively new product, the sun shade, or sun sail, offers good architectural solutions that are permanent, inexpensive and very flexible.
For our region, traditional fabric-covered structures haven't been very popular in the past. Tents or canopies have been used for temporary applications, but thanks to high winds and sudden storms, they aren't permanent solutions. Canvass awnings or porch covers may work in other areas, but the fabrics have tended to fade or become threadbare when subject to the beat down glare of the Texas sun. I had a serious sun problem at my own house recently, so it was time for me to try out the new materials.
Last summer, the sun and heat were unprecedented. At the house, our side porch was exposed to relentless sun. Our kitchen garden soon became a graveyard of potted plants scorched by a relentless sun.
This year, in the early spring, we replaced the plants and enjoyed lush growth on the porch all spring long. I used the herbs regularly in my cooking and my wife's new desk had a great view of the brightly colored leaves and flowers. As summer approached, we were determined to keep the porch garden growing. We needed some shade.
There are a number of solar shade or sun sails options. The simplest are triangular or rectalinear-shaped with anchors at the corners. Unlike the traditional canvass porch or awning covers, these fabrics are woven loosely to allow some light transmission. Though they tend to repel water, they are not water-tight. We found several options that would work for our porch cover and began comparing prices on-line.
Several local companies have made fabric structures very accessible. They can custom-make interesting shapes for any number of applications. But for our porch shade, nothing could beat the prices we found for a triangle shade that looked like it would work perfectly. Most were in the $100 - $200 range, but we luckily found a sale and ordered a triangle sun shade for $50.00.
With some pre-planning, we located good places to anchor two of the corners on exterior walls. The outside point of the triangle would need a vertical post or pillar somewhere near the porch stair. Though we could have placed a tall post, we opted instead to bolt a metal bar onto an existing post.
Now, the summer is nearly over and the sun shade has proven to be amazingly effective. The plants are still green -- I've enjoyed my herbs all summer long. The flowering plants are still thriving, though we've added several like the bougainvilla that don't mind the heat.
The biggest surprise, however came the moment we set up the sun shade. The triangle not only shaded the porch, but also blocked the sun from the wall with western exposure. Within minutes, the room inside felt cooler. The difference has been so significant, there have been days when the outside sun beat down all day, and we barely needed the air-conditioning. I'm rather certain we saved enough in electrical bills to more than compensate for the total installation cost of less than $100.
I can recommend a few pointers from what we learned in the process:
Plan the anchor points carefully.
We noted several warnings about anchoring the sun sail to the sides of houses. There is significant pull on the corners, so you can't just nail or screw into the siding. We located two of three anchor points so that lag screws could go deep into the framing. For the remaining corner, we would have needed a fairly large post set deep in the ground. We already had some solid posts on our stair, so instead, we anchored the metal bar to one of the existing posts.
Consider how to maximize the shade.
For our porch, the worst sun comes late in the day. At that hour, the sun angle is very low, so we angled the sun sail to block as much sun as possible. A commercial establishment in our neighborhood installed a larger version of the same sun sail this summer, but they didn't adjust the angle to block the late afternoon sun. As a result, the structure provides very little shade when it is most needed.
Be ready to make adjustments.
Though the shade sail installs quickly, it is a tensile structure. The cables need to be moved around to get the sail to stay fully stretched. Fortunately, I had a patient helper and after several rounds of adjustments, we got the right balance of tension on each point. I kept turnbuckles on all the points in case there needed to be further adjustments, but so far the tension has remained constant.
Have a quick release.
When the weather report called for thunderstorms with gusts up to 40 or 50 mph, I was glad we left a hook on at least one of the attachments. The sail looks pretty strong, and the anchors are solid, but hey, it’s a sail. I didn't want my structure taking off in the high winds. I loosened the turnbuckle from the outside anchor and rolled the sail up on the one side between the two walls to ride out the storm.
We've assembled responses to the most frequently asked questions about Residential Green Buidling. Download your answers here.
The Atlantic Cities
website ran photos and news this week about the earthquake in Italy. This strikes a chord with us in Central Texas. No, we don't have priceless renaissance buildings here, but we continue to grapple with major events that challenge us to re-examine our building processes and consider key issues of building restoration.
These sobering photos remind us to consider all aspects of construction. First and foremost are the life-safety issues. Are there lessons to be learned to reduce the chance of injury or death in a catastrophe? But the bigger questions have to do with the recovery. What can be done to help structures withstand a disaster? How can communities most efficiently re-build in the aftermath?
Reconstructing buildings is only part of the recovery. How do residents regain their sense of security? Will the changes after the disaster be permanent? Will things ever feel normal again? Are there ways to preserve history or keep connections to the past?
Our experience with First Baptist Church in Dripping Springs illustrates the importance of considering all aspects of recovery. In the wake of a tragic fire that destroyed their sanctuary, the congregation was determined to rebuild. With our involvement, they considered their long-term needs and opportunities.
The church chose to do more than just replace what was lost. They challenged themselves to build for the future. Their new church is bigger, better and more beautiful than ever before. And the congregation is thriving.
The historic bell is one of the few items salvaged from the fire. It now hangs prominently from the soaring new steeple. The bell tower never was as high and prominent, but proved to be a wonderful way of preserving and improving on the past.
So what is a demand charge and why should churches care? Churches should care a great deal. If you are not paying it now, watch out! It could equal or even exceed your consumption charge in a given month. A demand charge for church electricity bills is seriously being considered by our local utility company. Some utilities already have added this charge for churches, and may soon expand or increase its use.
A Problem for the Catholic Center
The experts at Austin Energy met with us recently to look over the University Catholic Center. We completed the building almost a decade ago and we've been helping the business manager find ways to save energy in anticipation of electric rate increases. The Austin Energy policy currently is to charge churches a residential rate for power consumption only. There are active plans to shift all churches over to commercial rates, though the program is currently on hold. That shift would also subject churches to demand charges. We found out at this meeting, just how ill-prepared the Center was for this new charge.
We reviewed the previous bills for the Center and determined the electric bill would have shot up by at least a thousand dollars each month if there had been a demand charge. The Austin Energy engineers toured the building and noted the equipment, the lighting and the overall use of the facility. By far the largest cause of the demand was the air conditioning equipment. There really aren't ways to use less A/C when the building is in use. They suggested that by staging the start-up of the motors, we could at least reduce some of the demand charge. That would require brand new equipment, or a completely new control system. But that also would be a huge investment for units that are relatively new and are only used once or twice a week.
Why Have Demand Charges?
Electricity isn't a commodity most of us understand very well, and the way electric companies do their billing can be very confusing. But simply put, a consumption charge is billed for the amount of energy used each billing cycle. A customer pays for the power used in a given period of time. The demand charge is an extra fee based on the highest use (over a 15 minute interval) in each billing cycle. A customer is paying for the capacity to have the maximum service on demand.
Since power companies can't store power, they have to be able to provide, at any one time, all the electricity needed for the highest demand. If that demand is beyond their capacity, then the system fails. Customers start having brown outs or black outs. Their power is reduced or cut off completely.
In theory, the demand charge becomes an incentive for large customers, mostly commercial businesses, to minimize or eliminate their spikes during the peak hours. They can be rewarded financially for shifting operations, increasing efficiency, or staggering equipment start-up. When this happens, the maximum demand for the entire area goes down.
Demand Charge for Churches?
But churches aren't like large companies. They can't shift or move operations to different times. They might benefit from more efficient equipment or sophisticated control systems, but most churches don't have the up-front money needed to invest in them. Some experts have suggested taking weekends out of the demand period calculations. But even this action won't really help most churches. All it takes is one 15 minute spike in energy use, and the church is stuck with a whopping charge at the end of the month.
We looked at the Catholic Center's demand calculations to see how removing Sunday would effect the demand charge. The conclusion was pretty obvious - not much, or not at all. We were touring the building on Ash Wednesday. The Center had been open early that morning and the weather was warm outside. The AC units were all on, as were the lights, the music equipment etc. The elevator was in use. Staff and students were in and out of all parts of the building. In short, the Center was hosting hundreds of people and a wide range of activities. It was exactly what the building was designed for, and it was being used at maximum capacity.
Something is always happening at the University Catholic Center! And that's why demand charges are so challenging!
Of course, the building was also at maximum energy use for more than 15 minutes. The only way to have eliminated demand charges that day would have been to shut down or close off one or more activity. While the Center doesn't run at maximum capacity all the time, on any given month it is not unusual to have overlapping activities that would cause a demand spike. Our plans to help reduce overall energy consumption with efficient lighting etc. may make little or no difference thanks to these extra charges. And since Ash Wednesday, or Good Friday, or orientation week, or a funeral or wedding can't and won't be put off until the weekend, the Center will be stuck with the bill.
Demand charges for churches? The answer must be an emphatic "NO!" However, if they are coming, and it looks like they are, churches will have to make big changes (future blogs on this topic?) or bear the brunt of dramatic escalations in their electrical bills.
An Austin TV station featured another our our clients, First United Methodist Church and their fight to prevent Austin Energy from adding the demand charge to their church customers. Here's a link to the video.
Do you need to know more about lighting? Want to understand the basic differences in lighting types and technologies? Eric MacInerney uses plain language to give you a solid understanding of lighting basics. Download this great resource now:
One and a half years after graduating from the Historic Preservation Program at University of Texas at Austin, I went back to the School of Architecture and took a tour of its prominent Architectural Conservation Lab, a great building conservation resource. Fran Gale, the director of the lab, was hosting a session with the students from her Materials Conservation class. The students were asked to use microscopes to examine paint samples and document the sequence of paint layers present. To better examine the paint layers, they encapsulated each sample in a resin cube so it could easily viewed and preserved.
Fran was involved as a consultant in the foundation of the lab back to 1980s. UT followed the standards from National Conservation Advisory Council for conservation education and facilities very seriously. The lab has become an important resource for the Historic Preservation Program. Fran has been in charge of the lab since 2007. The space is now located in West Mall Building, and provides great information about historic building materials. It is the home of Fran’s Materials Conservation series, and is also the technical base for students in the Historic Preservation Program. It has a big collection of building material samples, and supports the examination and testing of materials from historic buildings on the UT campus.
The UT Lab before class.
In the lab, students are encouraged to use various tools and equipment to conduct studies for both school projects and related research. I still remember when I was in school I would spend a whole morning or afternoon figuring out different pigment layers on the paint samples or testing the stains on the limestone. By using the digital microscope, I was able to take as many close-up photos as I wanted. I often took them home for future study. What better way to understand the characteristics of historic materials than doing the testing and analysis yourself?
Although the lab is a teaching and research facility for the School of Architecture, Fran sometimes will help with some local projects. Recently, one of Heimsath Architects’ clients made good use of this resource. In the restoration project of the University United Methodist Church located adjacent to the UT campus, project manager Sandy Stone suggested the use of BioWash to clean mildew off of historic limestone. The church had been contacted by a company that proposed using a clorox bleach for a much cheaper price. Sandy was concerned that the clorox would damage the historic materials. So she consulted with Fran, who agreed with Sandy’s selection and suggested a way to test BioWash product to use the least damaging concentrate possible. With Fran’s help, we were able to convince our client and successfully cleaned and preserved the limestone.
In historic preservation projects, it is always important to treat historic materials carefully and correctly. Fran and her Architectural Conservation Lab provide such a wonderful opportunity for scholars and professionals to learn the right methods and techniques.
Use this interactive map to see names and descriptions of Austin Churches designed by Heimsath Architects.
View Heimsath Architects - Austin Area Churches in a larger map
We've had a number of requests recently for tours to see Austin churches designed by Heimsath Architects. It has been very instructive to revisit some of these sites and to note how successful they have been for each congregation. I'm forced to ask myself, "is there a common theme or connection between all these places?" Here are a few of my observations from these trips.
First United Methodist Church's Family Life Cener at 13th & Lavaca downtown.
For one thing, I am reminded just how diverse our congregations have been. We've expanded landmark churches in West Austin and developed facilities in East Austin neighborhoods. We've worked with main-line denominations and with unaffiliated churches. Christian groups make up the majority of our projects, but we also have experience with Jewish and Moslem groups. We're currently in the planning stages with Austin's Hindu Temple. Each community has been equally important and exciting to us.
We've addressed a wide diversity of congregational needs. Some are large and complex. We have several new site developments in areas with challenging environmental regulations. Others are small and intimate. At Our Lady of Guadalupe, volunteers constructed our design for an outdoor shrine. There are many sensitive additions and renovations to existing landmarks. In some cases, such as Christ Lutheran Church in Georgetown, we transformed an existing structure by adapting it for a new use.
The memorial at Our Lady of Guadalupe reclaimed a neglected space between the Activity Center and the parking lot.
I'm particularly struck by how well our designs have held up over many years of growth and change. We talk about flexibility and timeless design, as do many architects, but the real test is whether buildings look stodgy or dated when you visit years later. The first worship space I worked on in Austin was designed nearly a quarter-century ago. I compare this with a project dedicated at this time last year. Look at the two projects below. I personally think anyone would have a hard time judging which one was the older building.
Faith Presbyterian Church's Sanctuary -- Emmaus Catholic Church's Adoration Chapel
Can you tell which one is the oldest, and which one is among the newest of our Austin Churches? Share your guess in the comments below.
When I revisit these projects, I'm reminded of one of our most important challenges. We always strive to create a place that feels connected to worship. Even support spaces or non-worship functions should express a spiritual dimension. When a congregation or a community of believers builds, there is an opportunity to craft a spiritual environment. I hope as people visit these places, they will continue to experience that crucial dimension for generations to come.
University United Methdist Church - Restored exterior stone, roof, and stained glass windows.
You may think you know Austin Churches, but here are three wonderful worship spaces few people know exist. Built as all-faith spaces, these were planned for prayer and worship regardless of denomination or affiliation. They represent three generations of Austin religious leadership and three generations of spiritual and church architecture. All of them are reasonably accessible - you may pass by them every day. But all are nearly forgotten when people consider special places for worship in Austin.
Hidden Austin Churches - Oakwood Cemetery Chapel
The first, and oldest is the Cemetery Chapel in the Oakwood Cemetery built in 1914. Here's a link to our previous blog about this unique building and how unusual it is for a municipality to have constructed, and still own, a worship space. Save Austin Cemeteries has initiated a fundraising program to first stabilize the foundation, and then completely restore this amazing place for use in a variety of activities.
Even in its current condition, the building is worth a visit to see the potential from the outside. The architect, Charles Page, masterfully embraced the small size and scale of the chapel. It feels much bigger than it is, in part due to the balance of traditional gothic forms and elegant craftsman style details. The interior, once restored, will be amazing, as you can see from this video. Sadly, a visitor won't see much on the inside today, it's currently just being used for office space.
Hidden Austin Churches - AuSSLC Chapel
The second is the Chapel at the Austin State Supported Living Center (formerly known as the Austin State School). Dedicated in 1961, it was an early design of the late architect David Greaber. The Chapel is actually a large assembly space built to serve the needs of the residents, visitors and staff in the heart of this special-needs community. According to Dr. Paul Kraus, the current Chaplain, private funds were raised throughout Texas from Protestant, Jewish and Catholic groups, in order to have an appropriate place for the community to worship.
On both the exterior and interior, the Chapel is remarkably preserved and the design has remained nearly intact for the past fifty years. There's a lot of recent interest in mid-century modern design. The Los Angeles County Museum just opened a new exhibit on its impact on West Coast architecture and interiors. So it's even more remarkable to have such a fine example right in the middle of Austin.
Even though it is showing the wear and tear of age, the space continues to be a very beautiful place for worship. The dramatic interior is flooded with light and color. It is well worth a visit, especially on a sunny day. Though it is a public facility, any visitor should arrange in advance with Dr. Kraus at 512-374-6438 or the AuSSLC staff at 512-454-4731.
Hidden Austin Churches - Dell Children's Hospital Maxwell Chapel
The third hidden jewel is the Maxwell Chapel at the Dell Children's Hospital. This is a space that Heimsath Architects worked on as liturgical consultants. Though space is in the heart of the facility, the modest sign at the door hardly hints at the space inside. Right in the middle of the building, this soaring three-story space was conceived as homage to the modernist landmark at Ronchamp by LeCobusier. Though the dramatic form was set by the hospital architects, we were brought in for the details and functions to make an effective all-faith's chapel.
One of our first contributions was to open the entry area so it joined with the outdoor meditation garden. In the Chapel, windows cut into the stone wall provide a direct connection to nature. This is a major theme throughout the entire hospital, so it was important to continue the connection between the indoor and outdoor faith environments.
The font with free-flowing water, the altar table and the pulpit are bold, simple forms relating to the large volume of the room. The font is fixed as a symbol of entry, but all the rest of the furnishings are flexible, so that many groups and many functions can be accommodated. The stained glass in the three-story window uses symbols to illustrate the history of the Daughters of Charity, the religious order of women who founded and continue to administer the Seton network.
You will notice at the base of the stained glass there is a stone a plinth where the tabernacle is located. Though the Chapel is for all-faiths, the Daughters of Charity are a Roman Catholic institution. For both functional and symbolic reasons, the antique tabernacle is placed here; a further reflection on the origins of the institution. The Dell hospital is a wonderful place to visit. You may ask at the information center for directions to the Chapel, or contact Chaplain Services at 512-324-0153.
Visit our Austin Church Architecture webpage for more information and resources about church building in Austin, Texas.
In 1914, Austin built a city chapel for all faiths. This small structure, located in the city’s oldest cemetery, has the potential to be a one-of-a-kind landmark. In the United States, very few, if any, non-denominational chapels were built and owned by municipal governments.
The Oakwood Cemetery Chapel is located in the center of the oldest cemetery in Austin, Texas. Both the Oakwood Cemetery and the Chapel are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are Historical Austin Landmarks. The small stone chapel was designed by Charles H. Page in the Gothic Revival style and was built in 1914. It was originally used as a mortuary chapel. As the funeral industry developed and rituals changed, the need for the chapel diminished. The chapel was overlooked for many years.
Neglect of this beautiful jewel has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, no major alterations or changes have compromised the building's interior or exterior. Minor modifications in the 1940's were sympathetic to the design and had no significant impact. A partition wall added in the 1970's made an office in the front portion of the nave, but will easily be removed.
The building, however, has suffered significant deterioration due to the many years of neglect. The biggest challenge will be fixing the foundation movement that has caused cracking in the masonry walls. The roof, in past years, had leaks that were only recently addressed. This resulted in a good deal of rot on the wood trim and damage to the interior plaster walls.
Save Austin’s Cemeteries was founded in 2004 in order to preserve the city’s valuable historic cemeteries. The SAC has taken on the Oakwood Chapel Restoration Project as the first in a series of projects to highlight their importance for future generations. Led by Leslie Wolfenden, the current SAC president, the effort started with HABS-level drawings in order to document the existing building. With the City's approval, SAC will begin raising funds from private donors, and other granting agencies. The project has already received a grant from National Trust for Historic Preservation. Here is a short film on the project.
As a partner of the Oakwood Cemetery Restoration Project, Heimsath Architects provided the feasibility study on a pro bono basis. The study includes the condition assessment of the existing structure, exploration of architectural restoration solutions, programming for community use of the chapel, and the potential of creative funding for the project. The study recommends a three-phase restoration project, which, when completed will see the entire structure repaired and restored. A small restroom/storage building will also be added behind the chapel to provide necessary support.
The restored chapel will be ideal for small receptions, presentations, performances, or a worship activities. Based on the extensive historical research, measured drawings and photographs, many gathered already by SAC members, we have created exterior and interior renderings, and a 3-D movie to show the Chapel in its restored condition.
On July 19th, 2011, Ben Heimsath participated in a public meeting at Carver Library hosted by the City's Department of Parks and Recreation. Leslie Wolfenden presented an outline of how Save Austin Cemeteries will take the lead in restoring the Chapel on behalf of the City of Austin. Ben discussed the architectural challenges and also was interviewed by KVUE news. Attached is the link to the interview: http://www.kvue.com/news/local/Austinites-attempt-to-save-historic-East-Austin-chapel-125896059.html
Here's the video we produced for the feasibility study: