FLW Tour Around Chicago – Part 3
I had a few hours on Monday morning before the course I’m attending was due to start. It was a great opportunity to get out to Oak Park and have a look at the Unity Temple. The last time I was in Chicago was in 2002 and I had a few hours before a plane flight so I had a quick wander around Oak Park. But I couldn’t go into the Unit Temple.
However this time, I’d checked on the web and found that you could do self-guided tours around it. I’d seen many photo’s of the interior and had even started modeling it for SimCity4. The latter had involved much research and I was intrigued by the apparent space created by the basic shapes. To make matters even better, the rain from the weekend had given way to a beautiful (but cold) clear spring day.
It was a quick drive out I290 to Oak Park and then into one of the many parking garages giving me plenty of time. The Temple itself was almost empty with a very kindly old lady giving me the guide pamphlet and information. My first impression was that internally it is very rundown; like many of the reinforced concrete structures of Wright’s it’s around a hundred years old and showing its age. They are restoring it slowly and much of the exterior is covered in scaffolding.
However walking into the main space of the temple was impressive. The centre is almost exactly a cube (if you include the height of the recessed ceiling glass panels it would be a cube) and the space works. It gives a nice feeling of intimacy, being a fairly small space, but the cube shape also feels big and the height adds to the spiritual feeling. The side sections are raised above the main section but also feel very much a part of the main space; perhaps this is also due to the shape and the height of the front of the temple (where the altar would be in a Catholic church).
The ceiling with it’s twenty five patterned glass panels is incredible. The Wright detail in the art windows, very much like the Prairie Houses nearby, are beautiful. You can see a lot of the Larkin Administration Building in this building; the massive pillars on the corners outside giving the building a feeling of mass and solidity and inside with windows high up the walls so members of the congregation looked up and out at the skies not at boring buildings next door.
But even here the building is showing its age, cracked concrete, faded paint, faded and torn curtains. I hope their restoration goes well.
I had a bit of time so I wandered up Forest Ave and took some photo’s of the houses in the sunshine, including my favourite house there; the Frank Thomas house. I had to duck back to the city, but would have loved to spend another hour or two in the area. Perhaps another day.