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! 

As our journey begins….

Our first update is an article that our UTUUC Board President Dan Crimmins wrote for the June issue of CONNECTIONS. More updates will be coming soon as we begin our journey of restoration and preservation!

June has arrived, and we are just a few days away from moving out of Unity Temple. This is an exciting time for all of us — we’ve been busy cleaning, sorting, organizing and planning for this time for months.

On June 14, we’ll hold our first service at United Lutheran Church, and Unity Temple will then be closed to us until the fall of 2016.

I would encourage anyone who is in need of transportation, or willing to provide transportation to United Lutheran to those in need, to complete a sign-up sheet at the Welcome Table in the foyer, or to send an email to

LogoIconOur sincere hope is that no one will be kept from worshipping with us in our temporary home due to lack of transportation. Please help make that possible.

When we move back into Unity Temple in the fall of 2016, we’ll return to a building that in ways will be the same as the one that we left, but in other ways will be different.

When we walk through Unity Temple, with historically-accurate restoration of the fixtures and finishes, it will be hard not to think of our forebears first taking possession of Unity Temple over 100 years ago. But we also look forward to improved, efficient LED lighting throughout the building, year-round climate control, and improvements in the minister’s office space.

As construction is now underway, I have been working with the engineers, architects and contractors for the preservation project to understand how some of these changes will impact the costs for operating and maintaining the building.

Despite our choice of efficient ground-source geothermal heating and cooling, the fact that we will be cooling the building for the first time will be a significant expense. We also anticipate that some of the building systems, including the geothermal system and our 16 roof surfaces, will need more maintenance than in the past.

How will we pay for these expenses, without depleting our congregation’s financial resources? Our plan is to make the building as self-sufficient as possible by attracting a higher level of event and tour revenue.

I envision a future where we have our building booked for beautiful weddings every weekend, and where busloads of tourists from all corners of the globe come to see our landmark home.

To make this a reality, we need to invest in improvements to our kitchen, our audio/visual support, and other systems needed to make our building safe and secure.

The Board of Trustees and our Investment Team will be working over the next couple of months to develop a comprehensive plan for funding these projects, retiring our debt, and putting Unity Temple on a path to self-sufficiency.

If we are successful, our congregation will be able to concentrate our own financial resources on the things that matter most to us — our programs, our social mission, our community outreach, and finding new space to support our growing congregation.

I ask for your support as we work together for the best possible outcome of this project, not just for our building, but for our congregation. Thank you!