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project client

Friends Meetinghouse, San Antonio

Religious Society of Friends


Lake|Flato Architects

design team

Ted Flato, FAIA; Robert Harris, AIA; German Spiller;

Isabel Mijangos contractor

Breda Construction


Steve G. Persyn, PE (structural); Pape-Dawson (civil);

Bender Wells Clark (landscape) photographer

Chris Cooper

The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, do not call themselves a congregation and their meetinghouse a not a church. Neither is a Friends meeting based on a liturgy, nor do their meetinghouses have steeples. Accordingly, both phases of the San Antonio Friends Meetinghouse by Lake/Flato Architects express the inner centering that is fundamental to the Quaker faith. The experience of most contemporary buildings begins at the parking lot. In this case a paved parking area, bracketed by mature mesquite and acacia trees, protects the meetinghouse from a busy intersection. The long cantilevered branches of the mesquite create a curtain through which the meetinghouse can be glimpsed. A winding path formed between rough limestone retaining walls and xeriscape plantings provides an emotional transition from the hubbub of the street. The path leads down to a heavy gate set in a limestone wall. The schematic layout of the original site plan was as important to the success of the project as the articulation of the buildings. As built, the original design features a simple row of meeting rooms and an office opening to a covered portico that serves as the primary circulation space. At right angles to this, terminating the portico, was a large open pavilion with a ridge line set off-center to the plan. These two wings formed an “L” around one corner of an open court, sparely landscaped and paved with locally produced decomposed pink granite. The western edge of the court is defined by the free-standing limestone wall that creates the entry transition. Although it serves no programmatic space-needs function, the wall is essential in creating the first of three centers that reflect the inner focus that is critical to the Friends faith. Just as a building might evolve over time, so too might a firm. In the case of the Friends Meetinghouse, the original building, designed by founding principal Ted Flato, FAIA, embodied early Lake/Flato vernacular—a simple masonry building mass linked to a center court by an attached open porch. The recent addition of a more formal meeting room, by Lake/Flato partner Bob Harris, AIA, rather than a reflection of local building traditions, turned instead to the Quaker tradition of wood-frame, wood-clad buildings. And yet, it was those original elements – the court and the portico – that allowed the two phases to link into a centered whole. On the exterior, the visual energy of the later meetinghouse central room comes from the use of horizontal siding, a reference to the archetypal East Coast meetinghouse of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, the siding is not old-growth pine but new composition cement siding. The horizontal planking is divided by wood columns that stand proud of the surface and clearly support the building mass above the hillside below. In addition to expressing the structure, breaking the siding into panels also avoids the waviness that can result when new siding is seen foreshortened. From the outside, the new meeting space has the effect of a barn due to its gambrel roof. The entire gable end is a clerestory window above the portico. Facing due west, it is buffered from the low afternoon sun by a brie soliel of flat wood slats, a detail repeated throughout the interior. Look-

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Texas Architect Nov/Dec 2007: Sacred Space  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...

Texas Architect Nov/Dec 2007: Sacred Space  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...