Eyes on the sky: More restoration photos

These photos from mid-October, capture work on the Unity Temple skylight.

Watch this space for more updates soon!

Bob Score of Harboe Architects reviews the work inside the Unity House skylight with Brad White of UTRF and Alphawood Foundation.

Bob Score of Harboe Architects reviews the work inside the Unity House skylight with Brad White of UTRF and Alphawood Foundation.

Reviewing the condition of the plaster inside the Unity House skylight.

Reviewing the condition of the plaster inside the Unity House skylight.

Much of the wood trim has now been removed from the sanctuary.

Much of the wood trim has now been removed from the sanctuary.


Snapshots: Restoration in action!

Here’s a snapshot of some of the work that’s been happening at Unity Temple.

We are lucky at UTUUC to have several photographers documenting this process for us. In particular, we have Ralph Earlandson, a member of our communications committee, and Dan Crimmins, the president of our board of trustees.

Dan took these photos at the end of August, 2015.

BlogPhoto1Looking from the edge of the upper east balcony of Unity House into the skylight. The lay lights have been removed, and workers are preparing for the removal of the remaining wood trim, the ceiling plaster, and the skylight itself. A new skylight will be installed in October, and it will have a lower profile that matches the light-colored peak above the circular opening.

BlogPhoto2The view from the upper east balcony of Unity House over the “dance floor” toward the south wall. The dance floor is an elevated scaffold that allows the workers access to the full ceiling surface for removal of the trim and plaster.

BlogPhoto3A carpenter removes nails and engraves identification numbers into the backing boards after oak surface trim is removed. The view here is from the upper east balcony of Unity House, looking across toward the west balcony where another crew is performing the same work.

BlogPhoto4On the exterior of the building, loose, cracked and damaged surface concrete (called “shotcrete”) has been removed in a process called “chipping”. Revealed below is the original structural cinder concrete which will be prepared to receive newly applied shotcrete. This photo shows the different concrete materials on the large planter near the east terrace.

BlogPhoto5Carpenters document and remove wood trim from the ceiling of Unity House for restoration. The view is from the west balcony of Unity House, looking east.

BlogPhoto6The familiar columns on the north side of Unity Temple, facing Lake Street. The art glass has been removed and sent to a conservator in Los Angeles; a protective piece of plywood is its temporary replacement. The columns are unique in that they are the only portion of the exterior surface that is original to the building. All other exterior surfaces were replaced in 1974 with the shotcrete that is now being restored.

We’ll be sharing more photos soon!

The mechanics of restoration: An interview with Mark Nussbaum

Restoring Unity Temple is quite a job, but we’ve been lucky with many aspects of the restoration.

Our roots in Oak Park home mean that we’re surrounded by members of our congregation and friends in our community who know and understand the historical importance of Unity Temple.

We also have a number of people who are really knowledgeable about the building. Many members of the restoration team have been working with Unity Temple for years.

Mark Nussbaum, the mechanical engineer for the Unity Temple restoration. (Photo credit: Evanston History Center web site)

Mark Nussbaum, the mechanical engineer for the Unity Temple restoration. (Photo credit: Evanston History Center web site)

Mark Nussbaum is one of the members of our restoration team, and he’s been working with the building for many years.

His bio on the Evanston History Center site says that he’s a “mechanical engineer who specializes in the preservation, restoration and adaptive reuse of historic buildings.”

For Unity Temple, he’s leading the project to update our heating, cooling and water systems, including the main core of that project – our migration to a geothermal heating and cooling system.

A geothermal system will use the deep earth temperature to circulate hot and cool air, as well as produce hot and cool water. According to Nussbaum, the system will heat water to 120 degrees and chill it to 44 degrees.

Another goal of the new system is minimizing and managing humidity on interior walls. If exterior walls are kept warm, that warmth drives moisture to the outside.

“Interior moisture definitely played a role in some of the external damage that we saw here [at Unity Temple],” he explained.

The geothermal system has been in the works for a number of years; Nussbaum was part of a 2004 feasibility study to see whether such a system could be implemented.

It’s been years of investigating, planning and researching, and figuring out how all the pieces fit together.

“The mechanical parts [coming together] is a big component of our work,” he said.

Nussbaum and his team are also working on other mechanical elements.

“We will be providing a new electric service to the building, and will rewire everything,” he said. “All the historic fixtures will be rewired, to be brought up to UL code (a standard for electric safety).”

The lighting throughout Unity Temple will be connected to a central lighting control, with the capability to adjust and dim lights in different spaces. Lamps will be fitted with LED bulbs.

The team will also be installing a new fire alarm system, and will add several exit signs. Nussbaum said that the signs will be added in the most discreet manner possible, in a way that will be subtle but still clearly mark exits and meet safety codes.

Plumbing is another key element, with additional storm drainage and some modern piping added to the building for bathrooms and the kitchen. (Renovation of the kitchen is part of a separate project.) The classic restroom fixtures will remain.

Nussbaum explained that opening our spiritual home to tours was a big impetus for looking at elements like exit signs, to ensure that people unfamiliar with our space will be able to safely find an exit.

Restoration: Experienced team leading the way


Restoration architect Gunny Harboe has also led renovations at the famed Mies van der Rohe towers on Chicago’s North Side. (Photo credit: University of Chicago Press)

The restoration of Unity Temple is in the hands of a team of architects and engineers. Some of the people involved in restoring our spiritual home have been working with the building for many years, and know it inside and out.

The lead architect, Gunny Harboe, has been interviewed by local and national media on several occasions about our restoration project!

We found an article in Dwell magazine that talked about an earlier restoration project of his at the Mies van der Rohe towers in Chicago’s North Side. You can see that article here

Pardon our dust: Latest restoration update

A member of the restoration crew works on a scaffolding platform inside Unity Temple. (Photo by Dan Crimmins)

A member of the restoration crew works on a scaffolding platform inside Unity Temple. (Photo by Dan Crimmins)

A version of this content appeared in the September 2015 CONNECTIONS newsletter.  

“Unity Temple Restoration Foundation is forging ahead on many fronts as we meet the challenge of procuring another $11.5 million for the $23 million restoration of Unity Temple,” said Brad White, President of the UTRF board of directors. “We remain grateful to members of UTUUC who have made individual contributions amounting to a total of $1.5 million,” he added.

“The congregation’s philanthropic commitment and the gift from the Alphawood Foundation have launched the board and many others into a positive, energetic and all-encompassing fundraising campaign,” said Heather Hutchison, executive director of UTRF.

Hutchison shared the following progress:

• National recognition and a $200,000 grant from the Getty Foundation;

• Submission of a grant to the National Endowment for the Arts;

• A multitude of personal meetings with individuals and leaders of public and private family foundations in Chicagoland;

• Meetings with leaders of Chicago’s philanthropic community;

• Preparations for the Unity Temple World Heritage site visit; in 2014, the U.S. Department of the Interior authorized the nomination of Unity Temple for listing with nine other Frank Lloyd Wright sites as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

There’s also been significant media attention about our restoration, including the following items:

• A comprehensive social media program, including a complete renovation of the UTRF Website, the UTRF Facebook Page and Twitter account; and management of a committee of both UTRF and UTUUC members for ongoing social media communications;

• An 18-20 minute documentary about the restoration with on-camera interviews and filming the progress of the restoration; several short clips on social media with members of UTUUC;

• “BIG FIX” article on the cover of the A&E Section of the Chicago Tribune on July 30; continued coverage in the Oak Park River Forest Wednesday Journal and the Oak Leaves;

• Online articles about the restoration in Architectural Digest, Chicago magazine, Curbed and others. (See “Unity Temple in the Media” in the right sidebar of this site for links to the articles. To see the videos mentioned above, click here.

More media mentions

Photo by Ralph Earlandson

Photo by Ralph Earlandson

There’s a lot of interest in the restoration project — and a lot of chatter in the media about what’s happening!

Curbed, a blog that focuses on real estate and architecture, is one of a number of outlets that have featured a story about Unity Temple, in the form of a Q&A with lead restoration architect Gunny Harboe.

You can read the Curbed post — with the ironic title of “50 Shades of Gray” — by clicking here

While several other recent stories have delved into details of the restoration, Harboe’s comments in this story dig a little deeper into the nuts and bolts of what the restoration will be repairing, as well as some of the steps that have been taken to protect our spiritual home during the process.

(Curbed has a national news feed, which is where the Unity Temple story appeared, as well as feeds for individual cities; the Chicago feed can be found here.)

July 2015 Update


This update, from trustee Stephen Kelley, is also in the July 2015 CONNECTIONS newsletter. Below is an excerpt. 

By the end of June we should have completed all nine geothermal wells located in the north lawn, each reaching down 500 feet into the earth. Cycling the fluids from our heating and cooling plant deep into the earth will cool them in the summer and warm them in the winter. It is that simple, sustainable and kind to the environment.

Behind the plastic envelope that encloses the Temple shell are workers who are hammering away at the concrete surface of the sanctuary parapets and chimney. These will be completely refaced. As concrete is “wet work,” it has to be done before it gets too cold in the fall. Freezing concrete before it is set will damage the work.

Just about all of the art glass has been removed from the Sanctuary and Unity House and is being sent to California for restoration. Soon the light fixtures along with the skylights in the Sanctuary and Unity House will be removed for conservation as well.

We still have a lot of issues to discuss and we meet each Friday in the construction trailer to the east of Unity Temple. These meetings are intensive, and are joined by different consultants and stakeholders, both in person and over the phone.

Many, but not all, of the design issues have been resolved. Issues that are still being negotiated (at the time of this writing) are disability access, and the layouts in the minister’s office. So far, everyone has pulled together to work through these issues and we have no reason to believe that this open collaboration will not continue. I am sure that we will [encounter] further challenges to resolve in the next months.

Please check this blog for more updates. The Communications team will be sharing more in-depth stories with you about some of these individual projects and items Stephen’s discussed here, and will feature interviews with some of the people who are working on our home for us!