Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Proposed St. Paul's University Catholic Center, Madison, Wisconsin

Matthew Alderman Studios has been serving for the past few months as the designer for the principal elevation of the new St. Paul's University Catholic Center in Madison, Wisconsin, with RDG Design and Planning of Omaha serving as the overall architect of record. We are now releasing our concept to the various organs of the city government for their comment and review, so I can now share this exciting news with our readers.
St. Paul's University Catholic Church serves as the Newman Center for the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Under Fr. Eric Sternberg, it has spearheaded an amazing effort to bring the fire of the Faith to Madison's student population. Catholic life in Madison has undergone a remarkable renaissance under Bishop Morlino, and St. Paul's is one of the foundations of this resurgence. I can assert from personal experience that it is really heartening what is going on over there. St. Paul's is molding a new generation of faithful, responsible, and joyfully serious young Catholics.The current facilities are crowded and do not match the parish's expanding vision. St. Paul's is proposing a mixed-use high rise, incorporating a chapel and offices on the lower floor, with a unique residential college located on its upper levels. The fourteen-story building's dormitories will house 175 students, while the chapel will have room for 500 worshippers. More details from the Wisconsin State-Journal:
Officials with the St. Paul Catholic Student Center at UW-Madison unveiled a new, less-boxy design Monday for a $45 million housing development and campus worship center. The design keeps the same square footage and 14-story height as an earlier version but presents it in a way that will better fit with surrounding historic buildings, they said. An April design drew concerns from city planners over mass and height.
"I don't know if we've addressed those concerns — it's the same height and size — but our goal is to convince city staff that while it's a tall building, it's not a very big building," said the Rev. Eric Nielsen, St. Paul's priest.The project would replace the existing Catholic campus facility at 723 State St. The center's "relatively small" quarter-acre footprint would remain the same, with much of the 10,000 square feet coming in height, Nielsen said.The student center portion of the current facility was built in the late 1800s. The chapel was built in 1909 and renovated 43 years ago. It has no residential component. The redeveloped center would house up to 175 students. "This is something Catholics in the state will want for students here, and urban density is something the city wants," Nielsen said.City Planning Division Director Brad Murphy did not return phone calls for comment. The student center is across from Memorial Library on State Street Mall and between University Book Store and the landmark, neo-Gothic revival Pres House, the campus Presbyterian chapel. The new design looks less blocky and more classical than the earlier version, center officials said. It is "more cohesive" in the way it integrates a chapel and student center on the lower levels with several stories of student housing, Nielsen said. Informational plans for the project were to be submitted Monday to the Madison Landmarks Commission, said Ron Trachtenberg, St. Paul's attorney. The project is expected to go before the Landmarks Commission Nov. 8 and before the Urban Design Commission Nov. 10. The City Council will need to approve it, he said. Center officials hope to break ground in two to three years, said Scott Hackl, St. Paul's development director. A vast majority of the money for the project is expected to be raised from a small group of benefactors, he said.The project poses a number of intriguing challenges; it was commented when I was first discussing the possibility of involvement that I was probably the only ecclesiastical design consultant in America who had made a systematic study of early twentieth-century churches with a similar mixed-use program. I was brought on board once most of the internal program had been worked out, as well as the basic height and width of the building, but a lot of the exterior massing and detail had not yet been worked out. After consultation with the clients, a form of Romanesque was adopted as the preferred style, given its obvious ecclesiastical connotations, its ability to blend with a more modern Deco aesthetic, and its ability to withstand budgetary simplification. The interior of the building will house a variety of dormitories, apartments, meeting rooms, study lounges, and other facilities for the campus ministry, as well as the chapel, which is accessed through a large lobby and will be on the second level of the structure. It was important to impart an ecclesiastical character to the principal facade while at the same time asserting the building's mixed-use status. In my own sketches, I drew on the work of Ralph Adams Cram at Christ Church Methodist in New York, a rugged urban ecclesiastical plant with a great deal of dignity and personality, and Bertram Goodhue's slightly earlier St. Bartholomew's, just down the street on Park Avenue. St. Bart's offered some particularly useful ideas, as the General Electric Building, a particularly lofty high rise, was built behind it and designed to serve as a suitable low-key backdrop for the church's Byzantine dome, in much the same way the main shaft of the structure relates to the church facade below. This is also an important precedent given the neighboring structure, Pres House, the Presbyterian university church, is a landmarked Gothic revival structure, so while St. Paul's should make its identity clear, it must also create a symbiotic relationship with the older structure. I imagine you will hear more from me on this in the next few weeks as the story develops further and we get reactions from the vox pops. Everything I have heard so far has been very positive. I encourage you in any case, if you live in Wisconsin, to tell your friends and support this very worthy cause. Not only could this be a great moment for traditional architecture, it could be a unique and fruitful opportunity for future generations of young Catholics in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.

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