Building Name – Bahá’í House of Worship-North America
Location – Wilmette, Illinois, Chicago
Architect – Louis Bourgeois (French-Canadian Architect)
Year of Start – 1912
Year of End – 1953
- All Bahá’í Houses of Worship, including the Temple of North America, share certain architectural elements, some of which are specified by Bahá’í scripture. `Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, stipulated that an essential architectural character of a House of Worship is a nine sided circular shape. While all current Bahá’í Houses of Worship have a dome.Bahá’í scripture also states that no pictures, statues or images be displayed within the House of Worship and no pulpits or altars be incorporated as an architectural feature.
- “There are combinations of mathematical lines, symbolizing those of the universe, and in their intricate merging of circle into circle, and circle within circle, we visualize the merging of all religions into one.”
Architect Louis Bourgeois
- Transforming the architect’s intricate designs into a stable structure required innovation in both building materials and construction techniques.
- Architect Louis Bourgeois consulted with John Earley, an expert in ornamental concrete, about constructing the dome from cast concrete panels mounted on a steel superstructure. To achieve Bourgeois’ vision of the whitest possible surface, Earley experimented with white Portland cement combined with crushed quartz.
- The Gardens- The Bahá’í House of Worship gardens are part of the sacred space. The nine gardens are planted with foliage of various colors and fragrances to convey the beauty of unity in diversity. The nine rectangular approaches to the Temple, some incorporating reflecting pools, are reminiscent of those found in the East. The nine circular gardens, with round fountains, represent Western landscapes and serve as outdoor rooms for prayer.
- The building’s main-floor plan is that of a nine-pointed star set on a circular apron of eighteen steps leading upward to nine entryways flanked by tall columns. The structure—topped by a graceful dome, its nine decorative ribs meeting at the summit—is 58.2 meters (191 feet) high from the floor of the basement to the culmination of the dome ribs. The inner rotunda is surrounded by an ambulatory with steps leading up to a gallery. The diameter of the dome is 90 feet (27.5 meters).
- The decoration of the Wilmette House of Worship is its most characteristic feature. Both the interior and exterior of the building are faced with finely decorated panels cast from a mixture of crushed white quartz, white quartz sand, and white cement. After a committee investigated cast stone, terra cotta, or aluminum alloy as materials for the exterior decoration of the Temple and rejected them as impractical, John J. Earley, an architectural sculptor from Washington DC proposed using a new type of concrete that could be molded into intricate shapes, thereby translating Bourgeois’s diaphanous plans into reality.
- Workers then exposed the unique quartz aggregate by removing the top thin layer of cement paste. The panels are resistant to extremes of weather. They refract light, creating a visually dazzling effect particularly in the dome, with its inner and outer skin of decoration surrounding a curved glass armature. The configuration allows daylight to filter into the interior of auditorium, creating the effect of a floating web of light and concrete.
- The exterior decoration of the building weaves together several themes: a celestial motif on the dome; leaves, tendrils, and flower forms; and symbols of several of the world’s great religions, including the Bahá’í nine-pointed star. Short texts from Bahá’u’lláh’s writings are carved over the nine doorways.
- The interior ornamentation of the auditorium, designed by Alfred P. Shaw and produced by the Earley Studio, carries out the spirit of Bourgeois’s design, echoing the structure’s exterior ornamentation.
- Nine texts, different from those on the exterior, appear over the interior doorways. An inset design of the Greatest Name, which is lit at night, adorns the apex of the dome, over forty-one meters (135 feet) above the dark-red terrazzo floor. The auditorium seats nearly 1,200 people.
- Foundation Hall, located within the basement area, accommodates approximately 350 people for meetings and programs.
- The gardens surrounding the Wilmette Temple are an integral part of the edifice. Landscape architect Hilbert E. Dahl began work on a plan as early as 1928.
- Nine circular gardens surround the base of the building, serving as both transition spaces and areas for prayer and meditation. Each garden has its own unique character. Pools with fountains, flower beds, hedges, shrubs, and trees create a simple and dignified setting for the Temple. The properties surrounding the Temple comprise nearly three hectares (seven acres).
- The House of Worship has become a well-known landmark and visitor attraction in the Chicago area, welcoming more than a quarter of a million visitors in 2007.
- In 1978 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which lists sites worthy of preservation.
- By the 1980s water and weather damage had caused deterioration that required painstaking restoration and preservation—a phased project that has won local and international awards. A conservation master plan to preserve the House of Worship for a thousand years has been in development since 1999. A restoration plan developed in 2000 includes both the building and the grounds of the House of Worship. The plan includes restoring the gardens, which had gradually changed over the years, to the original design by Hilbert Dahl; replacing walkways and fountains; adding new lighting and irrigation systems; and replacing the monumental stairs, terraces, railings, and retaining walls around the building.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá laid the cornerstone on 1 May 1912 during His visit to North America.
- The Temple project took 50 years and continued through two World Wars and the Great Depression. The building was financed entirely by voluntary contributions from Bahá’ís around the world. More than five thousand people gathered for dedication services as the Bahá’í House of Worship was opened to the public in May 1953.