875 Lake Street at Kenilworth Ave
Frank Lloyd Wright
This gem is what some would
argue is Wright's best public work. Commissioned by the Oak Park Unitarian
Universalist Congregation, Wright convinced the client to abolish ideals
of the little white New England steeple as proper form for a church.
Instead of imitation, he proposed a building that would emphasize the
presence of God in the gathering of people. The result is a sacred space
with introspective central rooms protected by solid walls, all at once
intimate and monumental, solitary and communal, human and spiritual.
The Unity Temple is constructed
out of reinforced concrete due both to budget restrictions and Wright's
eagerness to experiment with new materials. It was one of the first
buildings to do so in North America; Wright used exposed concrete
externally to define mass and volume, and internally as floating planes to
define spaces. This complex dialogue between inside and outside for Wright
was central to his architectural theories of the interior unfolding
truthfully outward and expressed itself in materials, form and experience.
Wright also wielded his
virtuosity with light and dark, compression and release, and play with
geometry to give meaning to humble human acts. For example, there are
multiple dark entries into the temple to allow the solitary, perhaps
tardy, worshipper to enter without being noticed. The dark entrances then
ushers the worshipper into a jewel-box space, lit from above and facing
others in the parish in a democratic, communal box. The geometries that
pervade the building are repeated throughout and unified at the altar,
highlighting its importance.
How to visit
The Unitarian Universalist
Congregation still owns the building and holds services, classes and
social functions in the century-old auditorium, parish house and entrance
hall. A concert series also highlights local musicians and celebrates the
space as a music box. The building is open for tours with a nominal fee
that is used for restoration costs.
Tours are self-led but you can
arrange with the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation for guided tours and
classes. Make sure to allow time to visit the surrounding Wright
buildings; in particular take care to buy tickets for the Home
and Studio tour before heading out to the temple as tickets usually
By public transit: Take the
Green Line "El" to Oak Park Avenue. Walk under the viaduct,
north one block to Lake Street, and west one block to Unity Temple.
By Car: From Chicago, take
Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) west to Harlem Ave. and exit north (right).
Go one mile (1.6K) to Lake St. Go east (right) about .5 mile (.8K) to
Kenilworth Ave. and Unity Temple. We found plenty of meter parking.
The Unitarian Universalist
Congregation provides information to the congregation and activities held
within at www.unitytemple.org.
Oak Park Visitors Bureau
has information about the vibrant community surrounding the Temple,
including dining and recreation details, at www.visitoakpark.com.
Books and other web
Click the book titles to view and to order