Unity Temple is one of the earliest public buildings in the US to feature exposed concrete, and, with its cubic, flat-roofed structure, is considered to be among the most innovative and imaginative structures of the 20th century. Wright considered the building one of his greatest achievements, describing Unity Temple as “my contribution to modern architecture.”
The innovative, experimental design elements of this modern masterpiece, including its 16 separate flat roofs, also created unforeseen structural problems. Over time, Unity Temple’s concrete structure and interior finishes have suffered extensive water damage and surface cracking.
A comprehensive restoration master plan was developed from 2000 to 2006 to address the complete restoration of Unity Temple, including the building’s exterior and interior, decorative, and environmental components. The plan was updated in 2014 to include additional testing and reports.
Beginning April 2015, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation will direct a $23 million dollar comprehensive restoration of Unity Temple. The project will restore Unity Temple to its original appearance while implementing environmental improvements to ensure its functional sustainability through the next century. The exterior restoration includes concrete conservation, skylight repair, new roofing and drainage, door and window restoration, landscape restoration and exterior lighting.
The interior scope of work includes restoration of historic plaster, repair and replacement of damaged plaster, replication of original finishes, lighting upgrades, art glass restoration, and wood door and trim restoration. A new geothermal heating and cooling system will be installed, as will upgraded electrical and fire alarm systems.
The restoration of Unity Temple will serve as a model of best practices for modern conservation, exemplifying the challenge of restoring a building that has had previous, extensive restorations, as well as the challenge of closely matching original materials and finishes. The project will be documented through digital photographs, and by a professional videographer who will record restoration activities and interview key individuals engaged in the process. The video will be made available to students, field researchers, and preservation practitioners interested in learning about the restoration of Unity Temple.
Unity Temple will close to the public May 30, 2015. The restoration is expected to be completed in the Fall 2016.