The new center for Soka Gakkai International-USA is located in one of Washington’s
most significant neighborhoods, near Embassy Row and the Naval Observatory.
The building fits very well into the context of embassies, large old homes and churches. Much time and effort went into meetings with neighbors and the Historic Preservation Review Board, and the resulting building respects the neighborhood character. The design of the building shape and site were in deference to the adjacent historic Babcock-Macomb house. This 1920’s Italianate mansion now houses the Cape Verde Islands Embassy. The center sets back from the house as far as possible, creating an outdoor plaza space, and a shared landscaped driveway. The Massachusetts Avenue façade of the center aligns with the two adjacent buildings, maintaining the street frontage neatly.
The landscape features native trees, shrubs and perennials, as well as Kwanzan
cherry trees and Japanese maples. These special trees are a visual link to
Soka Gakkai’s origins in Japan. Along with the plantings, an elegant
fountain and low wall help define the plaza space and create a serene exterior
The building itself is composed of materials seen in the surrounding neighborhood. Cream stucco, rubble stone, copper, and dark wood are natural materials that give the center a warm, inviting look. Inside, light, calm colors and earth tones dominate, suggesting a tie to nature.
Nature is respected in the green and eco-friendly aspects of the building. The main roof is a planted “green” roof which slows down and filters storm water, helps reduce the urban heat island effect, and adds thermal and acoustical insulation. As much of the site as possible was planted, reducing hard surfaces and runoff.
High performance glass in the many windows allows in much daylight, reducing lighting needs, while keeping heat out. Interior materials and products were selected to have minimal VOCs or “out gassing”. Plumbing fixtures, lighting and air conditioning systems were designed to high efficiency standards. The underground parking was limited to 20 spaces, which will encourage carpooling and transit use.
The program of spaces includes sanctuary spaces, a bookstore, fellowship lounge, and classroom, office, and study spaces. Many of the spaces are flexible to allow for smaller groups, or multiple language worship needs, as well as for various meetings and functions of the Washington D.C. SGI community. While flexibility was crucial to maximizing use of the site, the heart of the center is the worship space- the Gohonzon Room. From the very beginning of conceptual design, the importance of this space was paramount. The room features large floor to ceiling windows and clerestory windows to create a bright and airy feel. These can be covered with rolling shades or custom doors when more privacy is needed. Rich walnut wood trim and screens, fabric wall coverings, textured carpet and custom lighting are all combined to create a true sanctuary and place appropriate for worship and reflection.