William Wenzler and Associates William Lam and Associates Central United Methodist Church

The Methodist Church built in Milwaukee by architects William Wenzler Associates was completed in 1982. The church is partly submerged into a hillside, with the roof being formed by the hillside itself and covered in wild flowers. The climate in the area is cold


Section built into hillside and by forming the church, sheltered by earth on three sides, it is protected to minimize operating costs.

The nave is surrounded by ancillary spaces, but the architect resisted the temptation to incorporate perimeter skylights in his design, as this would have prejudiced the simplicity of the effect of the wild flowers on the hillside, so that another solution had to be found. This solution consists of atall tower with sunlight entering from the south, with a blank wall to the north.

The tall tower which can be seen in the photograph is designed to collect both light and solar energy, but also registers the presence of the church in the neighbourhood; it bears a resemblance to Utzon's Bagsvaerd Church in Denmark, although for somewhat different reasons (LightingModern Buildings, Case Study 8, pp. 1 18/9).

The tower contains an electrically operated high-tech thermal shutter which can track the sun, offering an inexpensive opportunity for redirecting low angle winter sunlight towards the floor of the chancel, whilst at the same time directing some light to the roof of the nave, by means of a secondary system of mirrors below.

During the summer the shutter is in its closed position to reject high angle summer sunlight and heat.

In order to test the system, model studies were carried out to convince the architect that the idea was practical. This is an excellent use of model studies which can be carried out quite simply using actual sunlight conditions; they are both quicker and cheaper than to try to use the various methods of calculation or by means of computers. The model studies showed the architect the dramatic sunlight patterns that would be achieved. The photographs of the actual interiors shown here followed the model studies closely.

Whilst no daylight is received directly to the nave, by the traditional means of aisle and clerestorey lighting, the solution adopted for controlling the daylight and sunlight from the tower, provides the theatrical impression required.

Central United Methodist Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 143

Artificial Lighting Churches
Section through tower. Winter/Summer
How Interiors Affect People
Interior of the chancel Interior of the nave

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