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Frank Lloyd Wright's UU churches

Architect with Unitarian roots designed two famous Unitarian Universalist churches.
By Jane Greer
May/June 2005 5.1.05

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Wright's Meeting House

Frank Lloyd Wright's Meeting House, completed in 1951, is home to the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisc. (Don Sylvester)

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), one of America’s foremost architects, was born into a Unitarian family and identified as a Universalist throughout his life. Wright’s legacy to our religion can be seen in the two distinguished Unitarian Universalist churches he designed, Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, and the Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Oak Park church was dedicated in 1909 and is the “crystallization of UU principles,” says Unity Temple Restoration Foundation executive director Keith Bringe. Three tiers of balconies surrounding the podium can seat up to 300, yet also permit a feeling of intimacy for smaller groups; no seat is more than 45 feet from the podium. Both the interior and exterior of the building are made of poured concrete, a radical innovation at the time. Instead of a steeple, the flat roof has stained glass windows, suggesting that divinity is to be found inside among the people.

Wright’s Meeting House, home to the First Unitarian Society of Madison, was completed in 1951 and is built of limestone and oak with a massive copper roof. The extensive use of glass throughout the building provides light and gives a sense of unity with nature. The design features the use of triangular forms that can be seen in the overhanging pitched roof and the angular protrusion of the sanctuary’s windows, a formation suggesting a ship’s prow. The uplift in the roof’s design provides a sense of transcendence, eliminating the need for a steeple.

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