In the middle of the night of June 6, 1905, during a violent storm, lightning struck the spire of the wood frame, Gothic Revival-style Unity Church in Oak Park. By dawn, it had burned to the ground. The following fall, the Congregation hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new church. Wright was 38 years old when he received the Unity Temple commission. It was his first major public building and one of the most significant projects of his lengthy career.
The concept Wright presented to the congregation met their needs and was, at least prior to construction, within their budget. It also broke nearly every existing rule and convention for traditional American and European religious architecture while laying the groundwork for modern buildings. Along with a revolutionary design – with no steeple and no front entrance – Wright’s Unity Temple would use concrete in a daring way. Unity Temple would be among the first monumental buildings in the world to be comprised entirely of poured in place, exposed concrete. The honest and elegant exploitation of a material reserved for factories and warehouses would become a model for design today.
The congregation was eager to occupy its new building as soon as possible. The construction contract called for the building to be completed by November 15, 1906. In reality, over two and a half more years would elapse before the structure was substantially complete. A bold design, an optimistic budget, unproven construction techniques, and Wright’s penchant for modifying his designs during construction made for a challenging building process.
On September 26, 1909, more than four years after Unity Church burnt to the ground, and at a cost that exceeded the budget by more than 50%, the new home of the congregation was dedicated. The Congregation’s Board of Trustees issued a resolution thanking Frank Lloyd Wright:
â€œWe extend to the architect, Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright, our most hearty congratulations upon the wonderful achievement embodied in the new edifice and further extend to him our most sincere thanks for the great service which, through the building, he has rendered to the parish and to the community. We believe the building will long endure as a monument to his artistic genius and that, so long as it endures, it will stand forth as a masterpiece of art and architecture.”