Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Architecture / Touring: Unity Temple

The structure of Unity Temple is reinforced concrete, poured into forms on-site in 1906.  Revolutionary material and
technique for that time.  Among other things, Wright was interested in maximizing the efficiency of the long, narrow
lot and shielding the interior from street noise.

Not a twofer: driving to Unity Temple on Chicagoland's surface streets ain't fun touring.  It's bumpy tedium.  Any time, any season, but especially on a pre-Christmas Sunday.  Swimming like a shark among the fishes on the Interstates in light traffic has its moments--but that can be done anywhere, any time.  So this run was about the destination, not the journey.

My former Minister has been with Unity Temple in Oak Park for several years.  I try to get into town to hear her in the Pulpit, and reconnect with her and her family, once or twice a year.  Unity Temple, an icon among Frank Lloyd Wright's many icons, is always a treat.  Here's a link to the Unity Wikipedia page for fellow architecture enthusiasts:


Unity is one of the most peaceful spaces I know.  Besides designing the building, Wright "decorated" the interior.  He had the stucco walls painted in cream and pastels, and used warm-colored wood strip appliques liberally.  One of Unity's several unusual features is pews arranged in a  |_|  shape.  So you're always looking at fellow congregants as well as the speaker.  It's an intimate, social, people-oriented setting.

Looking "across" the pews on the main floor toward twins of the ones you're sitting in.  More pews, arranged similarly,
are out of this shot to the left.  Pulpit to the right.  This picture provides a sense of the light, airy feel of the space.  But
the ceiling is skylights, and it's even more bright and open than the picture suggests.

A "detail" shot of some of the decoration and lighting that Wright provided.  He did some
very innovative things on a tight budget.  Unfortunately, like all of Wright's buildings,
Unity Temple is "high maintenance" and expensively so.  Deterioration, especially
leaks which threaten even interior structural walls, is a constant battle.  Inexpensive
to build; not to own.

Above and below: The recently renovated Mens' Room at Unity Temple.  Besides the
considerable costs of renovating and maintaining the building, the Foundation which
owns it and the Congregation that uses it must negotiate problems Wright didn't have
to consider.  How do you conceal a modern P.A. system and upgraded electrical
capacity?  The layout and space allocation are not ideal for the activities of
modern congregations.  When the Foundation renovated the bathrooms,
pains were taken to finish them as Wright might have.

1 comment:

Wannabe Hotshoe said...

A stunning place. As an F.L.Wright admirer, I have spent time in several of his shrines, and this is a breathtaking place of reverence - toward both perfection of function and the builder himself. Strange, though, like the delicate 60's Lotus or Ferrari race car, it is a thing of frail beauty. I last visited it 20 years ago, and it was in need of repair then, as well. Mr. Wright was infamous for creating works of structural art that were far too needy after the sale. Shall I compare thee to the narrow tuning band of a Ducati sport bike on a summers day? Note to self: If I ever remodel the Temple, pick more appropriate, period correct bathroom fixtures....

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