Architect: Ulrich Franzen
Address: 1000 Blanton Avenue
The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond traces its roots back to 1830 when the Unitarian Universalist society was founded. It was the first congregation to use the term Unitarian Universalist despite several name changes in its long history. In 1906 the Unitarians built their first dedicated meeting house at the corner of Harrison and Floyd in the Fan District. Virginia Commonwealth University owns the building which still stands despite demolition threats.
In 1972 the congregation moved to its new building at the corner of Blanton Ave. and Garret St., adjacent to Byrd Park’s Carillon. The famously progressive institution selected famous and progressive architect, Ulrich Franzen. Franzen, a German born graduate of the Harvard School of Design, designed the building with strong influence from the much admired American architect Louis Kahn.
The Church is composed of large concrete block piers which protrude around the exterior. Inside of these are ‘service spaces’ such as restrooms, storage, and maintenance rooms. The negative spaces in between are the ‘served spaces’ such as large, open meeting rooms, art galleries, and a children’s center. Spanning between the heavy exterior masses are simple planes of glass and wood. Openings are either floor to ceiling view windows or angled clerestory strips designed to let in light only.
The strong, solid massing, formal repetition, and simple materiality of the building gives it a sense of place and permanence on its prominent site. The Unitarian Universalist Church is a invaluable addition to Richmond’s architectural portfolio.