A Universalist (now Unitarian Universalist) temple or church in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, the Unity Temple was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright after the original building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1905. The commission was important for Wright, one of his first public buildings, and allowed him to express some of the design concepts he had been formulating for some time.
The site for the temple was challenging, for it was a long narrow corner lot on a busy street, and the congregation wanted to have space both for worship and social activities. In addition, the budget was small: $45,000, when other Gothic churches in the area commanded funds triple that. Wright responded by designing a building unlike any church at the time, an inward-looking cubist structure of concrete with a cantilevered roof overhanging and protecting the entrance and walkways. A monumental concrete facade was erected around the building - really two squares joined by the entrance hall - to muffle the noise of the traffic outside and create a serene, contemplative internal environment. The centre of worship, reached in typical Wright indirect fashion by proceeding around corners and ascending up a short flight of stairs, is crowned by stained glass skylights and ringed with balconies, yielding a beautiful and peaceful space that thrilled even worshippers who found the outside sterile. Wright referred to the building as "my little jewel box".
The Unity Temple is open to the public, and I found it radiant on my visit, especially as many of the other Wright buildings in the area - not open - look rather gloomy from the outside. Standing in the temple, I understood how Wright marshalled light from the top, rather than the outside, of the building, creating an interior unexpectedly redolent with space, luminosity, and harmony.