By: Andrea Ward
The rolling hills of southern Wisconsin are now home to the two highest-rated LEED-Platinum buildings in the country. The Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison, Wisconsin, home to the Benedictine Women of Madison, recently earned a LEED score of 63 (out of a possible 69) points, surpassing the nearby Aldo Leopold Legacy Center (61 points), to become the nation’s top-rated LEED building.
The Sisters chose to deconstruct their 60,000 ft2 (5,600 m2) former conference center, Benedict House, and replace it with a 34,380 ft2 (3,200 m2) facility, sited on a 95-acre parcel of prairie restored by the Sisters and volunteers over the span of a decade. The building was designed to accommodate future upgrades that would eventually make the building carbon neutral. The two-story Holy Wisdom Monastery now houses the Benedictine Sisters’ community, serves as a retreat center and place of worship for various faith and cultural communities, and hosts other community events and performances.
The project developed in line with the Sisters’ mission, which encompasses a commitment to environmental stewardship. “For us, sustainability is not a trend,” says Sister Joanne Kollasch, “but a commitment to the earth—a 21st century expression of 1,500 years of Benedictine tradition.”
Energy use in the monastery is kept to a minimum through measures like customized glazing and high-albedo roof and hardscape surfaces, which keep cooling loads low (and decrease the heat-island effect); large windows that invite daylight and minimize electric lighting demands; operable windows for natural ventilation; and a ground-source heating and cooling system involving 39 closed-loop, 300-foot-deep wells. Rooftop photovoltaic panels meet 13% of the building’s remaining energy demands.
Efficient water fixtures, including waterless urinals, one-gallon-per-flush toilets, and low-flow faucets in kitchens and bathrooms, keep water use in the building low; outdoors, the restored native prairie landscape eliminates the need for a permanent irrigation system, and porous paving manages stormwater runoff. A green roof over the garage captures rainwater and further decreases the heat-island effect.
In the deconstruction of the Sisters’ previous conference center, more than 99% of the construction and demolition waste was successfully reused or recycled, diverting thousands of tons of material from the landfill. Thirty percent of the building materials were sourced from within 500 miles, and rapidly renewable bamboo floors in main gathering spaces round out the materials palette.
The local design and construction firm Hoffman, LLC, and sustainability consulting firm Vertegy headed the design team, which also included local firms Fredericksen Engineering, Czarnecki Engineering, and LGD engineering. Final project costs came in at $246/ft2 ($2,600/m2).