Lee Bey: Hi, Baha'i

August 4, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

Is there is a Chicago-area building better sited than the Baha'i House of Worship?

The domed temple sits there off Sheridan Road in Wilmette, serene and beautiful in perfect visual balance between sky and ground. From afar, it's a spectacular piece of architecture. Get close and the eye is seized (and pleased) by the intricate details that seem to endless scroll across the building's concrete face. Canadian-born architectural designer Jean-Baptiste Louis Bourgeois (he could draw but had no formal architecture training) drew up plans for the building.

It was the largest commission Bourgeois--who lived in Wilmette and was a Baha'i believer--would ever receive.


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)

John J. Earley, the master of the then still-emerging technology of concrete, is responsible for fabricating the panels that form the building's exterior. The panels are made of Portland cement and quartz and were erected at tolerances so close, the building looks as if it has been sculpted in place:


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)

Designing a world-famous temple should have made Bourgeois a household name--and it just might have, had the architecture fates dealt him a better hand.

Bourgeois was 63 when he won the commission in 1920 to design the world-famous building, and construction began in 1921. Though sections of the building were used during construction, the entire temple wasn't completed for another 30 years, stalled in no small part by a major 1931 fire at the construction site, the Great Depression and World War II. The building was dedicated in 1953, but Bourgeois died in1930.

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The Baha'i temple website has a great slideshow of the building's history and construction, including construction photos.