Following an extensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and neighborhood input, a major sanctuary for the Sufism Reoriented spiritual community has been undergoing construction in an unincorporated part of Contra Costa County near Walnut Creek, California. Designed by Alan Ritchie of Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie Architects, the 66,000-square-foot project was conceived as a quiet presence on a three-acre site within a largely residential neighborhood.
Sufism Reoriented was founded and chartered by Indian spiritual master Meher Baba in 1952. The current leader, Dr. Carol Weyland Conner, looked to Philip Johnson’s 1959 Pre-Columbian Pavilion (with its eight domed galleries) for Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., as inspiration for the new sanctuary. A central cast-in-place concrete shell dome surrounded by four smaller domes and eight minor domes in a circular footprint defines the new building.
To address neighborhood concerns about size and scale, a full two-thirds of the complex—including the library, art, support, and administrative spaces—is underground. A grand circular staircase leads to the underground concourse, and skylights provide natural light to the basement areas.
The building is designed for a 700-year life, utilizing a poured-in-place concrete structure. The 78-foot diameter main dome of the Prayer Hall is 35 feet high, and has a 23-foot-wide central oculus, supported by eight concrete pillars; the 38-foot diameter midsized domes sit on cast-in-place drum shear walls. A thick basement slab was needed to resist hydrostatic pressure from the site’s high water table. The exterior of the building is finished with 50mm- to 60mm-thick curved white Carrera marble. The interior houses a 38-foot-high bronze sculpture sitting on four base isolators.
The landscape by SWA Group is designed to cover the underground structure with a green roof that incorporates recycled glass instead of rigid foam insulation, and uses grass pavers for the site’s 74 parking spaces, presenting the appearance of a natural landscape. Trees and hedges are further incorporated to hide the bulk of the project from the street. All storm water is harvested and reutilized on site.
Soga + Associates Architects is the architect of record. Sufism Reoriented acted as its own general contractor, with Overaa Construction as the concrete contractor. Construction is expected finish by the end of 2016.