This summer, Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple will undergo a $23 million restoration that will include both exterior and interior work and a significant upgrade to the building's heating a cooling system. During the work, tours will be suspended and the congregation will hold services in another location.
Exterior repairs include repairs to the concrete and skylights. Wright's system of downspouts was inadequate, allowing water damage to mar the concrete and a lack of expansion joints has caused cracking. In 1973 the concrete was carefully repaired and this work preserved the original appearance of the exterior, but the following decades has seen further damage -- the restoration master plan included extensive research to allow the new repairs to blend seamlessly into the 1973 surface. The building's skylights will also be repaired.
The interior of Unity Temple has not fared as well as the exterior. Wright put considerable thought into the textures and appearance of the interior surfaces and the effect of decorative plaster was an important aspect of his design. But a century of repairs -- including some surfaces covered with latex paint (yikes!) -- has altered much of Wright's intended affect. The restoration will remove the repaired surfaces and finished and restore the original appearance with recreated finishes. The art glass -- original and largely still in good condition -- will also be examined and repaired as needed.
Also included in the work is a new geothermal system. This will not only dramatically increase the building's energy efficiency (heating the building has been a significant expense for the congregation) but will, for the first time, allow the church to be cooled in the summer months. The system will also provide a means of humidity control that will help to preserve both the interior and exterior surfaces. The geothermal system will have no exterior equipment and will operate silently.
The restoration master plan has been in development for nearly 15 years, and is the work Harboe Architects. Gunny Harboe and his firm have extensive experience with major, historically important restoration projects (including S. R. Crown Hall on the campus of IIT and the Marquette Building and the Sullivan Center), and the firm has extensive experience with Frank Lloyd Wright sites (including the Robie House, Bach House, Emmons House).
During the restoration, tours of Unity Temple will be suspended, the final tour will be May 30, with plans to resume in 2017. The last Sunday service will be held June 7 and future services will be held at the United Lutheran Church.