Chicago Blogs: The Unity Temple

Was Frank Lloyd Wright a Unitarian?  And what is a Unitarian anyway?

Unitarians, first founded in 1825, are now one of the fastest growing congregations in the US this century. Their emphasis on spirituality rather than dogma has been especially well received in the southern states battered by cultural wars. As one of their ministers put it “We don’t need to be right, we need to be kind.”

The church was very kind in 1905 in commissioning Frank Lloyd Wright to build its new temple on the outskirts of Chicago. He came in vastly over budget but he gave them a temple that became the hallmark of a new type of thinking about spiritual spaces.

The Christian church has always employed symbolism and theater; the yearning heavenwards of peaked windows and steeples; the cross shape of the nave and transept; candles, incense and the ethereal voices of the choir. But Lloyd Wright refined the experience of transcendence through the structure and fabric of the building.

A dimly lit, low-ceilinged loggia runs round three sides of the temple, which provides access to raised the body of the church through shallow stairways. In a wonderful set piece, you emerge from the overhang of the loggia into the double height space of the temple. High windows flood the space with light and the stained glass ceiling illuminates everything. It is a tremendously affecting metaphor.

FLW was quoted as saying that the Unity Temple was his favorite of all his output. "That was my first expression of this eternal idea which is at the center and core of all true modern architecture. A sense of space, a new sense of space."

That eternal idea is also at the center of Unitarian beliefs, that without the confines of liturgy a space for free thought and spirituality can be nurtured.

It’s often said that FLW was for whatever religion paid him. However, I feel that in the Unity Temple we witness a coming together of his imagination and his deepest beliefs to approach the sublime.



"For the Worship of God and the Service of Man"

I found out that, in late August, the bronze letters making up the inscriptions above the doors of the Unity Temple were stolen. The price of bronze obviously made it worthwhile for someone to pry the letters free and melt them down for their scrap value.

I urge you to make a (tax deductible) contribution to the Unity Temple Foundation for restoration of this extraordinary building.