Heidi Ruehle

After a two-year, $25 million restoration process, Oak Park’s Unity Temple re-opened to the public in 2017 and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 0f 2019. 

While the honor firmly cemented Unity Temple’s place among highly esteemed architectural sites around the world – UNESCO states that the designated sites contain cultural and natural heritage considered to be of outstanding value to humanity – due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the installation of the honorary plaque and in-person celebrations were curtailed.

Unity Temple Restoration Foundation Executive Director Heidi Ruehle says the honor will finally be celebrated on Saturday, Sept. 25 at 10 a.m. when an honorary plaque on the northeast corner of the building is unveiled. 

Barbara Gordon, chair of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, will give a speech on the importance of the designation and what that distinction means for the village of Oak Park.

After the unveiling, guests who have not yet had a chance to tour the restored building can walk through Unity Temple, 875 Lake St. The event is free to the general public, and advanced registration is required. Register at utrf.org/event/worldheritage.

Break::the::Box lecture series returns

Also this fall, the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation relaunches its Break::the::Box lecture series, including four lectures with keynote speakers following the theme “Healthy Architecture: The Impact of Design on Human Well-Being.”

Ruehle says Break::the::Box was originally launched years ago but went on hiatus when the organization began to focus on restoration efforts in 2013. 

“The intention was to bring it back in 2020, but we all know what happened there,” Ruehle said. “Interestingly enough, the theme of healthy architecture was something we chose pre-COVID.”

Photo by James Caulfield

The series of lectures will explore concepts and theories by professionals examining the role architecture has in sustaining human well-being in relation to economic development, historic preservation, nature-inspired design and modern live/work culture.

On Sept. 16, Dr. Antony Wood presents “Community, Sustainability and The Skyscraper: Can They Co-Exist?” That will be followed on Nov. 18 by Dr. Richard Condit, who will discuss the “Epidemiology of Chicago School Architecture.”

The series will resume on Feb. 17, 2022, when Amy Coffman-Phillips and Rachel Hahs present “Architectural Well-Being: How the Built Environment Can Enable Healthier Lifestyles.”

Finally, on, April 21, 2022 Erin Aleman will deliver a lecture on “Live/Work Architecture: Designing for a New Way of Living.”

“Each lecture is very different,” Ruehle said. “There will also be a Q&A element. We really want it to be a conversation.”

As such, she says that welcoming attendees into Unity Temple will add to the experience.

“I’m so excited. It’s sad not to see people in the space,” Ruehle said. “It’s the people inside the building that really bring Unity Temple to life.”

She stresses that safety and health precautions will be followed. People attending will wear masks and be seated with appropriate spacing. For those who are not comfortable attending in person, the events will have a livestream video component.

More information on the lectures and ticket reservations can be found at.utrf.org/break-the-box. Tickets cost $25 per lecture. Unity Temple Restoration Foundation members can attend at no cost.

Three named Wright Spirit Award winners

In other Wright news, Heidi Ruehle, of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation; Jeff Goodman, of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation; and Eric Rogers, of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, were recently named recipients of the 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy Wright Spirit Award, which recognizes owners and stewards of Wright buildings and others who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to preserving and restoring the remaining built works designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and enhancing appreciation of Wright’s legacy.

The trio won in the Public Category for their Wright Virtual Visits, which they developed and executed to bring Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs to an audience during the pandemic.

“The creativity that Heidi, Jeff and Eric brought to the idea of launching Wright Virtual Visits came at a dire time for public Frank Lloyd Wright sites who had to shut down because of the pandemic just as they were beginning to launch their critical spring and summer touring seasons,” said Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. 

“By the end of 2020, the social media program generated more than 90,000 cumulative views from the around the world to the over 20 participating Wright sites,” Gordon added. “They built amazing relationships between the sites and introduced new people to the Wright sites around the country.”

This year’s Wright Spirit Awards will be presented during the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy’s annual conference, held this year in Buffalo, New York. 

The awards ceremony, underwritten by Ron and Jan Scherubel, will take place at the conference’s closing gala on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 16, and will stream live online. 

Full conference details, including schedule and free access to the gala livestream, will be available at savewright.org/conference.

Lacey Sikora

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