In conjunction with the recent National Park Service announcement that Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Ill. has been submitted to UNESCO as a World Heritage nomination, the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation (UTRF) has confirmed that this widely acclaimed icon of modern architecture will undergo a comprehensive $25 million restoration and that UTRF has launched a fundraising campaign of the same magnitude.
“We are honored and celebrate the World Heritage nomination of Unity Temple,” said Daniel Cummins, president of Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation (UTUUC). “The building is unique in that it retains the integrity of its original design purpose: serving as an inspiring house of worship as well as a center for community gatherings and cultural events.”
“Almost half of the $25 million campaign goal has been committed,” noted Heather Hutchison, executive director of UTRF. “The Alphawood Foundation has made a magnanimous gift of $10 million and the Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation has raised $1.5 million,” she added. “We are hopeful others in Chicagoland, across the country and even throughout the world will join in this phenomenal philanthropic endeavor.”
Designed for Wright’s own Unitarian congregation in Oak Park, Illinois and dedicated in 1909, the cubic, flat-roofed structure is one of the earliest public buildings in America to feature exposed concrete. Wright considered the building one of his greatest achievements, describing Unity Temple as “my contribution to modern architecture.”
Wright’s bold, experimental design for Unity Temple incorporated the use of poured-in-place reinforced concrete, used primarily at the time for industrial structures. In a radical departure from traditional Western religious architecture, Wright designed the building to house two distinct spaces – Unity Temple, a four-level cubic sanctuary for worship, and Unity House, for the congregation’s social and cultural gatherings. The two spaces, connected by a single-story central foyer, feature decorative art glass ceilings. The building is praised for its geometric massing, use of modern materials, and innovative configuration of space.
UTRF and UTUUC have agreed upon a proposed comprehensive restoration project for Unity Temple that will restore the architecture and interior design of the structure to its original condition, as well as implement improvements such as a geothermal heating/cooling system to ensure its functional sustainability through the next century.
During 2015, UNESCO representatives will conduct an on-site review of Unity Temple. A final decision on World Heritage designation will be made in summer 2016. World Heritage designation is an honorary distinction that identifies sites around the world as having “outstanding universal value.” It does not provide protections or funding but requires that the owners and stewards of the site have made a commitment to its preservation and protection in perpetuity.
Frederick C. Robie House on the campus of University of Chicago in Hyde Park is also a World Heritage nomination. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust operates public tours and educational programs at Unity Temple in partnership with UTUUC and also works collaboratively on research, education and outreach initiatives. For updates about the restoration project in the coming months, visit the Trust’s website www.flwright.org.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Frank Lloyd Wright's historic Unity Temple (in Oak Park, IL) has been nominated for a World Heritage award by the National Park Service. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has announced that Unity Temple will undergo a $25M restoration in conjunction with the nomination (photo courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust).