Frank Lloyd Wright called Oak Park’s Unity Temple the first truly modern building. While one could argue with that statement, it’s certainly true that the building was groundbreaking when it was finished in 1908. No one had ever thought of constructing a public building — much less a house of worship — from reinforced concrete. Wright chose the material as a way of bringing in the project within the congregation’s $40,000 budget.

He failed — the final cost was closer to $80,000 — but he gave the congregation and Oak Park a landmark building, one that underwent a complete restoration, completed in 2017. That restoration, directed by the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation and restoration architect Gunny Harboe (FAIA), with a grant from the Alphawood Foundation, was a contributing factor in the building being designated in 2019 as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (The 20th Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright). It shares this honor with seven other Wright buildings, included Chicago’s Robie House.

The restoration and UNESCO honor also encouraged me and my photographer partner James Caulfield to rethink and revise our 2009 book on the Temple. The new book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple: A Good Time Place Reborn, has 50 percent more pages than the original, and the all-new photographs are displayed in a larger format. It was made possible by a generous grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

This is our seventh book on Chicago-area architecture and architects. Our most recent book, At Home in Chicago: A Living History of Domestic Architecture, was the Gold Medal winner in architecture at the 2022 Independent Publisher’s Book Awards. We are currently planning a major revision of an earlier work on famed architect Louis Sullivan.

The book was published by the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation (utrf.org), founded in 1973 to restore and preserve Unity Temple; promote public awareness of and engagement with architecture; and educate the general public, including local, national and international visitors of all ages about the significance of Unity Temple. Oak Parker Heidi Ruehle is the executive director.

       Copies of the new book are now available at the Temple (875 Lake St.), which is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday, at the Book Table (1045 Lake St.) or online.

Pat Cannon
Oak Park  

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