Unity Temple - Design and Construction

Design and Construction

To accommodate the needs of the congregation, Wright divided the community space from the temple space through a low, middle loggia that could be approached from either side. This was an efficient use of space and kept down on noise between the two main gathering areas: those coming for religious services would be separated via the loggia from those coming for community events. This design was one of Wright's first uses of a bipartite design: with two portions of the building similar in composition and separated by a lower passageway, and one section being larger than the other. The Guggenheim Museum in New York City is another bipartite design.

To reduce noise from the street, Wright eliminated street level windows in the temple. Instead, natural light comes from stained glass windows in the roof and clerestories along the upper walls. Because the members of the parish would not be able to look outside, Unity Temple's stained glass was designed with green, yellow, and brown tones in order to evoke the colors of nature. The main floor of the temple is accessed via a lower floor (which has seating space), and the room also has two balconies for the seating of the congregation. These varying seating levels allowed the architect to design a building to fit the size of the congregation, but efficiently: no one person in the congregation is more than 40 feet from the pulpit. Wright also designed the building with very good acoustics.

The design of Unity Temple represents a leap forward in design for Wright. In recounting his experiences with Unity Temple, he stated that this design was the first time he ever realized that the real heart of a building is its space, not its walls. Indeed, architectural historians have commented on Wright's genius in creating and manipulating space in his designs; in his book The Master Builders, Peter Blake entitled the section on Wright "The Mastery of Space."

In addition to being very accomplished with making the most out of the space he had, Wright also found the concept of "Unity" was very prominent mainly because of how he managed to fuse together space, experience and the material world. This was key to Unity Temple which has both a common meeting area and the congregation of church-goers. The sanctuary space gives the best example of this according to practicing architect Robert McCarter.

The building was completed in 1908 and officially dedicated on September 26, 1909. The original Universalist (now Unitarian Universalist) congregation still owns and uses Unity Temple, although a separate and secular organization, the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, is in charge of the building's multi-million dollar restoration effort. Chicago restoration architect Gunny Harboe is in charge of the restoration with CTLGroup providing the engineering and materials technology expertise. In April 2009, Unity Temple, due to water seepage, was added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 most endangered historic places

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