Unity Temple and Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church: Intimacy in Common
Their basic geometry is opposite: Unity Temple all right angles and Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church rounded and sonorous. In some ways Frank Lloyd Wright is also doing the opposite with where he directs your eye. In Unity Temple he gives ample opportunity for your eye to rest on stable horizontal elements whose line draws you ultimately to the pulpit. Though it is difficult to resist searching for the source of light from above. At Annunciation, the horizontal line is presented in rings; stable and flowing at the same time and also leading your eye to the pulpit. Here though Mr. Wright uses magnificent light spires rising up through the center of three wide spiral staircases to direct your eye upward. Upward to his beautiful gold-leaf dome – cast concrete, cast in one day. It rests on a circle of ball bearings which lay on top of a ring of half-moon clerestory windows. Opposites, but both have an intimacy about them. You are never far from the pulpit and never far from each other. Wright surrounds the pulpit with the faithful.
Wright’s use of light and line are often written about, and in his sacred spaces they are written about in terms of how they elevate the space to the divine. But for me it is the intimacy in these two spaces that prepares you for the spirit. Seating congregants ‘in the round’ unites them and not just through proximity, but visually. Yes, your eye is guided to the pulpit, but not so tyrannically that you can not regard your fellow believers. And that is the point. Many of us experience the divine in communion with others. Spaces that promote union and fellowship do this. You face each other in these two sacred spaces; so that you may see grace in each other, see mercy in each other, share faith with each other. In these two spaces you can not be isolated, you are brought into communion with the assembly. And for many of us, that is where the divine is revealed.
David J. Cipriano, Ph.D. is a docent at, and editor of the newsletter for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block (wrightinmilwaukee.org)