Unity Temple: An Incredible Visual Tour of a UNESCO Site

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My experience in visiting Unity Temple designed by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright was nothing less than remarkable. It is one of eight structures that collectively make up what is known as organic architecture developed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

This iconic building is located in Oak Park, Illinois and was constructed in 1908. While its age may not seem impressive, this temple was quite ahead of its time.

Unity Temple Tour in Oak Park

Entrance Hall

unity temple entrance

From the foyer as you look through the glass windows opposite the entry, the sanctuary is to the left and the Unity House is to the right.

At the welcome desk, the docent will greet you and process your ticket if it was purchased in advance. They also provide information about tour options and can help schedule a tour experience.

If you haven’t purchased your ticket, you may need to wait for the next available one. Otherwise, you can purchase the self-guided tour.

I took the self-guided tour since the wait for the next tour was a bit long. When I received the audio device and map, and the docent gave me a quick overview of where to go for each audio stop.

The audio tours are available in Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and German for non-English speakers.

Unity Church

unity temple alter
Unity Temple Altar
unity temple church balcony
unity temple ceiling
Unity Temple ceilings
unity temple church
Unity Temple – Upper Balcony

When Oak Park’s original Unity Church tragically burned to the ground in 1905, the innovative congregation saw an opportunity to create a new spiritual home reflective of their progressive values.

They commissioned the up-and-coming architect Frank Lloyd Wright, known for his experimental Prairie Style houses in Oak Park, to design a state-of-the-art church for their community. Completed in 1908, the new Unity Temple emerged as one of Wright’s most groundbreaking public designs.

The building pioneered the use of reinforced concrete, with its strikingly horizontal lines and geometric shapes embodying the Prairie Style.

Unity Temple’s skylit interior focused attention on the pulpit and fostered a sense of collective worship.

From the materiality to the intent, Unity Temple was a radically innovative house of worship that came to define Wright’s vision for modern religious architecture.

This historic structure remains a cherished community landmark in Oak Park today.

Unity House

unity temple unity house
Unity House
unity temple classroom
Unity Temple Classroom
Unity Temple fireplace
Unity Temple Gathering Room

My favorite aspect was observing the main hall from the cantilevered balconies above. The balconies are audaciously suspended over the open space below.

Unity House contains flexible spaces like meeting rooms, classrooms, and a gymnasium to serve the church’s needs.

The large fireplace has a warm, welcoming design, Unity House embodied the Unity Church’s spirit of fellowship and a place of belonging.

As the name suggests, Unity House was conceived as a social space and a place for the community to gather. The engineering required for this feat was extraordinary in Wright’s day.

If you visit Oak Park, I highly recommend experiencing Wright’s forward-thinking architecture firsthand. This landmark stands as an enduring testament to his genius.

The Exterior

unity temple exterior
unity temple exterior
unity temple corner view

The imposing concrete edifice features strong right angles and horizontal lines that project a grounded, solid presence.

From the exterior of Unity Temple, I did not imagine that the temple exuded an airy, breathable quality with its modern open plan. Sunlight pours in from art glass skylights and tall linear windows to illuminate simple, geometric forms.

Despite its fortress-like exterior, Wright cleverly designed the space to foster community and spiritual connection. I have never encountered a building quite as visionary as Unity Temple.

West Terrace

unity temple terrace

Outside Unity Temple lies the west terrace which provides church goers a place for reflection and outdoor congregation.

Wright designed the terrace with the same horizontal emphasis as the building, using graduated platforms built from locally quarried limestone to complement the temple’s strong geometries.

Frank Lloyd Wright UNESCO Sites

Unity Temple was added to the World Heritage Site in 2019. It is one of 3 multi-part UNESCO sites in the United States. This building made a unique contribution to world architecture in terms of space, shape, materials, and technology and was recognized for its innovative solutions in housing, worship, work, or leisure.

In total, there are eight buildings that comprise the multi-part site named on the UNESCO World Heritage list. These are Wright’s 20th century works that have had a strong impact on modern architecture.

  • Unity Temple – Oak Park, Illinois
  • Falling Water – Mill Run, Pennsylvania
  • Robie House – Chicago, Illinois
  • Jacobs House – Madison, Wisconsin
  • Hollyhock House – Los Angeles, California
  • Taliesin West – Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Taliesin East – Spring Green, Wisconsin
  • The Guggenheim Museum – New York, New York

Other Historic Sites You Can Tour in the Area

  • Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio | 951 Chicago Ave., Oak Park
  • Fredrick C. Robie House | 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago
  • Emil Bach House | 7415 N. Sheridan Rd., CHicago
  • The Rookery Light Court | 209 S. Lasalle St., Chicago

Tips for Visiting Unity Temple

unity temple audio device

Unity Temple is an active church and while there is no dress code, modest and comfortable attire is appropriate. Visitors should maintain a quiet and respectful demeanor throughout the visit.

Things to Know Before You Go

Here are some things that are helpful to know before visiting. If you take the audio tour, there are visuals on the device that that can be seen when you hear image on the screen of your audio device”. The images are tiny and may not the best resolution, but it augments the tour nicely.

  • Visitors cannot enter without a ticket during tour hours.
  • Children under 12 are not permitted on tours.
  • Tours are not available on Sundays.
  • Photography is allowed.
  • Restrooms are available.
  • The building is wheelchair accessible.
  • Tickets may be purchased online, by phone (312.994.4000), or in person at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, or at Unity Temple.

Hours and Location

📍875 Lake St., Oak Park

  • Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM
  • Saturday, 9:00 AM to Noon PM

Tours and Admission

  • Guided Tour: $20.00 | 45 minutes
  • Self-Guided Tour: $15.00 | 30 minutes

Parking

Street parking is available. The nearest garage is at the Oak Park Public Library (834 Lake St.)

Attractions Near Unity Temple

When visiting Oak Park, a stop at Unity Temple is the perfect place to see historic architecture.

In addition to touring Unity Temple, there are so many other places nearby, like Scoville Park, to see more in the neighborhood.

Between visiting Unity Temple and the Hemingway Museum, I had my pick of several cuisines at nearby Oak Park restaurants to grab a bite before continuing my sightseeing adventures.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

The home and studio were designed by Wright in 1889 and exemplifies his early Prairie style of architecture.

You can take a guided tour to see Wright’s original residential spaces, work studio, and expansive collection of art glass, furniture, and other artifacts.

It was interesting experience for me to see how he and his family lived in Oak Park.

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Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum

The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum is in the home where the famous author was born in 1899.

You can see the Victorian style home filled with original furniture and view exhibits that depict Hemingway’s upbringing and early writing career. The museum provides an intimate look into the origins of the renowned novelist.

I recommend this tour if you are inspired by the writings of Ernest Hemingway. I found the stories told by the docent so interesting and amusing.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Houses in Oak Park

Oak Park, Illinois has the greatest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes, with over 20 examples of his Prairie style houses.

You can take self-guided walking tours in the neighborhood of his home to admire the exterior architecture of these homes, noting design details like geometric lines, cantilevered roofs, and bands of art glass windows. His architectural designs are great souvenirs.

You can also use our guide to find even more Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the nearby neighborhoods of Oak Park. Strap on your walking shoes and follow our tips for walking tours so that you can enjoy the rich history, stunning architecture, and hidden treasures of Oak Park.

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Final Thoughts on Unity Temple

I could tell from the moment I walked in that this was no ordinary tour. I couldn’t help but be amazed by the vast, open space with incredibly high ceilings. It’s quite a departure from the usual religious architecture that I normally see.

The walls are adorned with precast concrete blocks, creating these fascinating geometric patterns and textures. What’s even more impressive is that Frank Lloyd Wright’s use of prefabricated concrete was considered a groundbreaking innovation back in 1908.

Needless to say, the pictures tell an amazing story. Visit Unity Temple to see first-hand Oak Park’s famous architectural landmarks. It is a testament to a community that has endeavored to bring people together for centuries.


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