New Systems, Same Finishes: The Unique Challenges of Restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright Building

The Unique Challenges of Restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright Building

John Bodkin, Assistant Project Manager, Chicago

The cultural significance of restoring a historic landmark building such as Unity Temple is huge.  As years passed, several factors affected the building inside and out, creating obstacles that are more than just cosmetic updates.  Integrating modern technology to create a more functional space for the user while keeping Frank Lloyd Wright’s intended design concepts provided several unique challenges, which are outlined below.

1. Concealing New Systems with the Same Finishes

Unity Temple never had an air-conditioning system, causing discomfort in summer services as well damage to some of the interior finishes.  All building systems were to be updated with little to no disturbance to historic finishes.   

Teams worked together to integrate new HVAC, electrical/data, A/V and theatrical lighting systems.  The challenge was concealing the upgrades within the historic finishes.  Work-around solutions to a few of these issues included trenching, use of geothermal wells and taking space from underutilized areas including the basement, tunnels, closets and organ loft.

2. Art Meets Architecture

The Unity Temple restoration project specifically required atypical finishes.  Typical “get it done” processes required more artistic flair including shotcrete and plaster.  

  • Shotcrete –  A custom finish was created to match weathering and different mixes applied over the past 100 years.

  • Plaster – The plaster was custom designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and all finishes were to match his original mix and texture specification.  Sand from seven different sources were used to create the rough-feeling texture requiring trial and error when it came to application. 

3. Ownership and Interests

The challenge here was to hit the functional needs of the tenant while maintaining the high standards of the architecture community and Frank Lloyd Wright followers.  The project provided an opportunity to work with the same client Frank Lloyd Wright worked with on the initial project delivery in 1908.  This required access for tours and visitors on any given day and security measures had to be put in place.  


Project Management Advisors served as Owner’s Representative for UTP, LLC and the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation.  

For more information on the project, click HERE

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