" ... No single piece of Wright architecture moves me more. I haven't seen all of his extant buildings, but I've seen plenty. Long before I started this book, well before i started the last, which was about Ernest Hemingway, I ws going to Unity Temple whenever I could, to sit in one of it's old smooth wooden pews, with all its light and silence and seeming saving grace pouring down. Going to Unity, during all the years of the work on Hemingway, so I believe, helped me to begin to understand things about him I wouldn't have otherwise remotely understood. Similarly, sitting these days in Unity ( no less than standing now and again at a stone on the South Side of Chicago) has helped me to find, or re-find, the person who I think Frank Lloyd Wright truly was.
I submit that there is a strange and beautiful convergence between the art of Hemingway in general and the art of Unity Temple in particular, and that the convergence meets at the simple-seeming word "space." "Space" is the word Wright himself used at various times in his life to try to explain what he had accomplished with Unity. Seven years before he died, he said of Unity: "Here is where you will find the first real expression of the idea that the space within the building is the reality of that building." What did he mean exactly? That space itself, air itself, invisibility itself, not borders, not walls, not pulpits, not altars, not cloisters, not pews, not organ pipes, but something you couldn't actually see was what he aimed to make people see - and so feel? His "little jewel box," he called Unity. As for Hemingway, it's easy to think of early little little three- and four-page jewel-box stories, or even fragments of stories, inter-chapters, where the white space on the page seems almost equal to the print on the page. Wright once said of his work on Unity that it "looks easy enough now, for it's right enough," words that might also have been said by a kind of autodidact, shed of Oak Park, living impecuniously in Paris in the mid-twenties with his wife and baby boy above the now-so-mythic whine of the sawmill at 113 rue Notre-Dame des Champs and trying to do something he didn't fully understand. It was essentially about elimination. It was a notion of a new kind of writing in which you purposely leave things out, create white space on the page. The art of omission, of trying to make the reader feel more than he necessarily understands. His "iceberg theory" he later called it, noting that the "dignity of movement" of an iceberg owes to the fact that only one-eighth of it is above water. In the fall of 1905, when a full-fledged genius named Frank Lloyd Wright began working on what would become Unity Temple ( it would take him thirty-four studies and more than three years of elimination to get it all down right), a sturdy little incipient genius named Ernest Hemingway was in short pants and in first grade at Oliver Wendell Holmes School catty-corner across Chicago Avenue from the architect's home studio. He probably seemed unremarkable, except maybe for that disconcerting grin, parts of it aggressive, parts warming.
So a try, however inadequate, at saying a little of what Unity is. He conceived it as a cube. It's a kind of cubed cube. In a way, it's as if seven-eighths of it cannot be seen, floats beneath the surface. Regarding the metaphor of water: It's possible to feel almost a sense of weightlessness when for the first time you enter the central space, or sanctuary, with its two levels of balconies that enclose three sides of the room. The room, in it's pale=yellow and pale-green and yellow-gray color schemes, draws you up and up, right to the clerestory windows and the stained glass skylights, which wash and cone the room in amber. It's as if all the details of the architect's design have been left out, all the interior structure deliberately destroyed, so that the only thing remaining to experience, if not understand, is this vaulting and intimate and light-filled room itself, so full of space. The great and late Yale critic Vincent Scully, already referenced, once said: "It's not a big building, but I think it's it's the biggest space in America." Neil Levine has spoken of the perfect square of Unity's main room as a "raised platform." A platform with the sensation of floating. You're "on this raised plane with space dropping away from you on every side." Levine has also written that it is as if the room is somehow "free of material constraints." Yes, water; yes, the seeming weightlessness."
... to be continued, not finished with this excerpt yet