Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wright in Maine: Maine Township Town Hall/Good Shepherd Community Church

The Front - now the back - of Good Shepherd
Interior of Church
A Chicago Sojourn features this distinctive building just outside of Des Plaines. Maine Township Town Hall was designed by Lloyd Wright and Eric Lloyd Wright, the son and grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright, and built between December, 1958 and May, 1961.
Lloyd Wright at the church
The church was sited on two acres set aside from the Ballard Gardens subdivision by builder Godfrey Lindstrom. The design was evidently inspired by Lloyd Wright's famed Wayfarer's Chapel. The church displays an interesting break with the signature Wright connection to nature. While the Prairie style normally plays off its natural surroundings, here the natural connection was with a berm created on the site. The church featured a "living wall" that was actually set into the berm, such that the building appeared to be bursting forth from the ground, reaching toward the heavens; the extensive skylights highlighted this axis mundi between heaven and earth. Wright stated his aim here was to "lift on high, literally as well as figuratively, the site from the existing flat terrain; typifying the sense of elevation inherent in the religious purpose of the site and structures". Unfortunately, this being the mid-60s, others associated "set into a hill" with "bomb shelter".

Artist concept of completed church, none of which was built.

Three phases were planned for future growth, but the small Lutheran congregation never grew enough for the rest to be built. The first phase was the 200-seat church. It had room for a choir of 40, and an educational wing. The lower level featured a fellowship hall with kitchen, stage, and a teen lounge with pine paneling and a stone corner fireplace. The second phase would have doubled the church's size to 450 seats; and the third would be a wedding chapel atop a 30 foot ivy-covered mound, topped with a copper and stainless steel spire and cross.

Maine Township purchased the building in 1983 and continues to occupy it. In 1995, needing additional space, they enlisted Wright-trained architect Arthur Dennis Stevens (former partner of Don Erickson) to build an addition in keeping with the style. The berm was moved back away from the wall, to improve access.

Today the building continues to serve its community beautifully, and Maine Township has recognized it as a gem and works to preserve its unique home.


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