Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the greatest architect in American history and one of the pivotal figures of the modern architecture movement, made his impact on modern church design as much as he impacted everything else. Over the course of his career Wright designed over a dozen churches and other religious structures, some of which were so ground breaking that they set the stage for whole new concepts in church design in the second half of the 20th century. From his earliest works including Unity Chapel to late-life masterpieces such as the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Wright left his stamp on religious architecture from coast to coast.
Oak Park, Illinois (built 1908)
Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois is considered to be one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s major early works. In the early 1900s, the previous Unitarian Church burned down, and Wright was commissioned to design a new building. Wright, a Unitarian, designed something entirely new: a steel-reinforced concrete structure with design elements that had never been seen before. It includes both the main temple and a community building.
The Temple is now generally recognized as one of the first true modern buildings, and has been hailed as one of the most important architectural achievements in the history of the United States. Among the unusual design elements are the temple sanctuary, which is built in the shape of a square with four equal wings of balconies and a centralized podium; stained glass windows high on the walls to minimize noise; and colors of green and brown to evoke a natural setting.
Unitarian Society Meeting House
Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin (built 1951)
Unitarian Society Meeting House outside of Milwaukee is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most influential and popular works, at least in terms of inspiring similar architecture. Built in 1951, it was completed after a long period in which Wright did relatively little religious building design. But it also marked the beginning of a long period of religious design that lasted for most of the rest of his life.
First Unitarian stands in an open area surrounded by fields and trees, and is designed to both incorporate a natural feel as well as to complement the environs. The main sanctuary boasts an immense peaked roof that trails on each side almost all the way to the ground. Much of the structure is built from wood, with immense windows flooding the entire building with light, especially at the front of the sanctuary.