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Central United Methodist Church

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1980, William Wenzler. 2501 W. Wisconsin Ave.
  • (Photograph by Paul J. Jakubovich, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

This unusual modern building departs radically from traditional church architecture forms and materials. In the late 1970s, the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) oil embargo temporarily raised fuel oil costs, which prompted builders and architects to find more energy-efficient construction methods. This earth-sheltered building exemplifies the enlightened responses to the situation, short-lived as it was.

When two established Methodist congregations merged and decided to build a new church, they razed one of their buildings and built a new concrete church on the site. It is mounded with earth to resemble a landscaped hill. The dramatic angular concrete tower is in fact a solar shaft, which integrates solar collectors, mechanical systems, and the bell tower, and it brings daylight to the altar and the church auditorium beneath it. A low concrete wall supports prairie grass, flowers, and shrubs growing on the structure’s roof and walls. The nave or auditorium is simply finished with natural concrete walls and furnished with movable chairs and serves the congregation’s multiple social, educational, and liturgical needs.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


What's Nearby


Marsha Weisiger et al., "Central United Methodist Church", [Milwaukee, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 116-117.

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