Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece Unity Temple hit the big time this week with the announcement that the building – known by many as the first modern building every constructed – was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list, along with seven other Wright structures.
The World Heritage Committee made the announcement from its annual meeting, held this year in Baku, Azerbaijan, that Unity Temple, built between 1906 and 1909 at 875 Lake St., will join in a collection of Wright buildings across the U.S. in the designation.
The other Wright buildings include the Frederick C. Robie House (1910, Chicago); Taliesin (1911, Spring Green, Wisconsin); Hollyhock House (1918-21, Los Angeles); Fallingwater (1936-39, Mill Run Pennsylvania); Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House (1936-37, Madison, Wisconsin); Taliesin West (1938, Scottsdale, Arizona); and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1956-59, New York, New York).
The World Heritage designation puts Unity Temple in league with more than 1,000 World Heritage sites around the globe, only 24 of which are in the U.S., according to a press release from the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation.
Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, said in a press release that the designation reconfirms “how important Frank Lloyd Wright was to the development of modern architecture around the world.”
“There are nearly 400 remaining structures designed by Wright,” Gordon said. “Our hope is that the inscription of these eight major works also brings awareness to the importance of preserving all of his buildings as a vital part of our artistic, cultural and architectural heritage.”
UNESCO noted in its announcement that the Wright buildings “reflect the ‘organic architecture’ developed by Wright, which includes an open plan, a blurring of the boundaries between exterior and interior and the unprecedented use of materials such as steel and concrete.”
“Each of these buildings offers innovative solutions to the needs for housing, worship, work or leisure,” the UNESCO statement noted. “Wright’s work from this period had a strong impact on the development of modern architecture in Europe.”
Heidi Ruehle-May, executive director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, said in a press release that the building is “one of the first monumental edifices created entirely of concrete.”
“Wright’s radical departure from traditional materials and visionary experimentation established Unity Temple’s reputation as among the most innovative structures of the 20th century,” she said. “The inscription as a World Heritage Site will help introduce Unity Temple to a larger international audience, creating the opportunity for thousands to experience Wright’s architectural masterpiece while making a considerable positive impact on the Oak Park community.”
It’s been a long time coming for the designation, which the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and representatives of each of the nominated sites, had been pursuing for more than a decade and a half with the guidance of the National Park Service.
The nomination was rejected in 2016, when 10 Wright buildings were submitted for the nomination. The Conservancy revised the nomination and resubmitted the nomination in 2018.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy noted in its press release that the World Heritage Site designation effort was spearheaded by Fallingwater director and founding Conservancy board member Lynda Waggoner.
The designation comes a few weeks after The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust announced plans to build a multi-million state-of-the-art visitor and education center adjacent to the Wright’s home and studio in the 900 block of Chicago Avenue.
The Trust envisions a 20,000-square-foot facility that will include a reception hall, gift shop, wooded outdoor plaza, research center and design studio.