“When I finished Unity Temple, I had it. I
knew I had the beginning of a great thing, a great truth in
architecture.” —Frank Lloyd Wright
Early on the morning of June 4, 1905, lightning struck the steeple of
Unity Church in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, igniting a fire that
would raze the building to the ground. The Unitarian congregation
suddenly needed a home and turned to local architect Frank Lloyd Wright
for a new approach. Thus begins the story of a watershed moment in the
career of the world's most influential architect and in the history of
twentieth-century architecture and design.
Wright’s design for Unity Temple was radical in its simplicity—a
monolithic concrete exterior—yet sublime in its detail and revolutionary
in its use of interior space. With Wright’s execution of Unity Temple,
the ideas he’d been working on and experimenting with for years were
finally brought to fruition, and modern design was born.
But it might never have happened if not for a devoted Unitarian
congregation who embraced Wright’s ideas and remained faithful to the
architect and his vision through the trials and calamities of
construction. Unity Temple, when completed in 1909, was—and still
is—considered one of the landmarks of modern architecture. Author David
M. Sokol poured more than 20 years of research into The Noble Room
and uncovers a dramatic tale—much of which turns out to be at odds with
the accepted story of how Wright himself described the process.
Anyone with an interest in architecture or in Frank Lloyd
Wright—or indeed anyone who’s ever had an addition put on to their house
or a kitchen remodeled—will be caught up in the story of the
tumultuous, chaotic creation of a modern masterpiece, which comes to
life in The Noble Room.
David M. Sokol has had a 40-year career as a professor of art history
and has taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago since 1971. He
chaired the department of art history for 17 years, becoming professor
emeritus in 2002. In addition to teaching and writing on American and
European art and architecture, Sokol has published articles and reviews
on Frank Lloyd Wright and Unity Temple. He is the author of Oak Park,
Illinois: Continuity and Change. He served on the board of directors
for the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright
Home and Studio Foundation, and currently serves on the Illinois
Historic Sites Advisory Council. Sokol lives in Oak Park, Illinois.