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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple Gets Crucial Restoration

Unity Temple (Image via Wikimedia)
Unity Temple (image via Wikimedia)

The United States is really proud of Frank Lloyd Wright — in February, it nominated 10 of the architect’s buildings for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Yet many of the buildings he designed, some well over 100 years old, are in dire need of renovations.

One of those buildings is now getting the much-needed overhaul it deserves. According to the Chicago Tribune, a $23-million restoration has begun at the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. Back in 2008, part of the ceiling above the pulpit collapsed, though the church was luckily not then in session. Large cracks have also formed in the concrete structure.

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Inside the Unity Temple (image via Wikimedia)

The 107-year-old building is one of Wright’s great masterpieces. The architect conceived it as two separate buildings — a “Unity Temple” for worship and a “Unity House” for social functions — connected by an entry hall. The geometric church was a curiosity when it was built in 1908: it didn’t have a steeple or dome, and it was made entirely of reinforced concrete, which was unheard of at the time. “When I finished Unity Temple, I had it,” Wright later said of the building. “I knew I had the beginning of a great thing, a great truth in architecture. Now architecture could be free.”

Chicago-based architect Gunny Harboe is now leading the charge to restore Wright’s building to its former glory. The building’s stained glass windows have been taken down and shipped to Los Angeles for restoration and its woodwork has been stripped for repair. Workers will clean and fix the walls and install a new roof, along with geothermal heating and air conditioning that will allow the building to be used year-round when it reopens in 2016.

The Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas (Image via Wikimedia)
The Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas (image via Wikimedia)

It’s not the only Wright-designed building undergoing renovations. Several more restoration projects are underway — the Martin House Complex, Robie House, the Edward E. Boynton House, and the gardens at Wright’s Wisconsin home Taliesin. And the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, the Oak Park Home and Studio near Chicago, and the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, were all recently restored.

Hopefully the Unity Temple restoration project will inspire other cities to act. Dallas has been planning since 2006 to overhaul the gorgeous Kalita Humphreys Theater, built in 1959 for the Dallas Theater Center and, since 2010, home to the Uptown Players. The Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California, could also use some love.

Correction: An earlier version of this article claimed that the Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas had been shuttered when in fact it remains open and in use by the Uptown Players.

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