Immaculate Heart of Mary Motherhouse
By Krista Walton | From Preservation | January/February 2008
Ever since its founding in 1845, the Catholic women's order known as the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary has made education its primary mission. So when it came time to renovate the Motherhouse, the centerpiece of the congregation's 280-acre Michigan campus, the sisters decided to go green—and teach others about responsible stewardship.
"Sustainability is a moral and spiritual mandate for the 21st century," says project director Danielle Conroyd. "The sisters wanted to make a commitment at their own home to demonstrate a different way of living."
Since the $56 million renovation, the 376,000-square-foot residence has indeed served as a model, with thousands of people having visited the site to learn about sustainability.
To preserve the Motherhouse's historic character, the sisters enlisted the help of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office to review changes made during the renovation. The red-brick art deco interior, foyer, and library were rehabilitated, and original design elements were saved—and made green—wherever possible. For example, Depression-era light fixtures were retrofitted to work with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs.
New sustainable elements were also introduced, such as a three-acre wetland built nearby, where water from the Motherhouse is filtered and reused to flush toilets. Low-flow restroom fixtures will save about 5,000 gallons of water a day, and a new heating and cooling system will result in a 25 percent reduction in energy use.
Jane Rath, a principal at SMP Architects, says that meeting the criteria for preservation, functionality, and green design was challenging, but that the sisters were deeply committed to the project. "Ultimately, one of the greenest things you can do," Rath says, "is renovate a building rather than throw it away."
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