9.09.2008

New Meeting Room in SF

Today was the first day of school in the new building for the San Francisco Friends School.

After six years in the “starter” school building, the last year packed in like a three dimensional geometry puzzle, this morning children and parents wandered around like explorers in the wild west.

One of the things that struck me was the contrast between the polished surfaces of the new walls and vast expanses of glass and the rough edges of the old beams and the old floors were that were mostly painted or waxed recently, but definitely not sanded smooth.

Despite the first day of school being scheduled so late, the construction continued all around us, and will for the next several years, I suspect. So much good planning has gone into this and it’s evident in big and small ways. How the wheelchair ramp wraps unobtrusively around the edge of the playground, offering access to the little teaching garden as well as the front doors. How the ventilation system was designed to take advantage of the natural rising and falling of warm and cool air so that a forced air system was not necessary.

The new meeting room is, as promised, a glorious space, flooded with light even on this foggy day, with enormous skylights that were originally part of the factory design but had been boarded up for who knows how many years.



The benches were built from reclaimed wood – pieces of the original fir beams from this 1907 building that were removed as part of the remodeling process and converted into these comfortable seats. (Liz Opp once wrote about the spiritual benefits of benches as opposed to individual chairs.)

Some time last year I noticed that, in the architectural drawings, the benches looked really sharp-edged and uncomfortable. So I innocently asked if that was really the design or if that was just the drawing. I got invited to be a test sitter for the demo model that would be delivered soon.

The first model was too high in the seat for a population whose majority will always be under five feet tall, and a significant portion is still under four feet.

The second model was lower in the seat but higher in the back and still very heavy.

So they re-sawed the boards and came up with this. They’re light enough to push around as needed.


It has been an ongoing point for me that the meeting room did not need to be sacrosanct space. In fact, at one of the early meetings for design input from parents, the architect was talking about how special it was to design a worship space and how it would be fairly small so that it could be solely dedicated to meeting for worship, in order to preserve that sacred feeling.

I had one of those visceral reactions where I could hardly breathe until it was time for questions and comments. I tried to calm myself enough to make a measured observation that Quakers have traditionally not sanctified their worship space and that it seemed better to me to plan for it to be a large enough room so that the whole school could sit in it together and to plan to use it for other things too. He was skeptical of that idea at that time, but clearly it was heard and I think they’ve achieved a fine balance between special and useful.

In general, I have hair-trigger sensitivity around the school and its Quaker identity. It’s been a long process, and I’m still not quite over it, but this day has all been good.

I pray that each person may feel the love and Divine Presence accompanying them as they move through their days and years here.

[Post opening meeting for worship update: it turns out that these benches were all made by hand by an attender at our meeting. I had no idea until yesterday morning. Apparently, he's friends with a friend of somebody whose kids go to the school and the connection was made that way - not through the meeting at all. But we're still proud to claim him.]

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2 Comments:

Blogger Shawna said...

Thank you, thank you, for helping the designers to create a space that has a wide functionality, instead of creating a "prayer closet." It looks beautiful!

I am reminded of my visit to the EFC-Eastern Region yearly meeting this summer. Some Friends were telling me about their long-term building plan, an ambitious plan with multiple stages. It Did include plans for a dedicated worship space, but that was actually one of the last stages.

The very first thing they built was the gym. They'd been worshipping in the gym for several years now, and expected to keep doing it for several more. See, you can worship in a gym, but you can't play basketball in a sanctuary!

Pragmatic folk, us Quakers.

9/11/2008 8:30 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

It is a good element, that practicality.

I also need to be clear that I can not take credit for any of the decisions that were made about the building - many people were very involved for a long time, and I was just tangential.

9/11/2008 7:29 PM  

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