Architect Jean-Baptiste Louis Bourgeois' gleaming white structure is pretty striking and makes quite an impact as you approach. I saw pictures before arriving but they didn't quite prepare me for just how stunning the building is in person. I gasped (and then felt like kind of a dork).
The domed structure is clad in white Portland concrete with quartz crystal aggregate that seems to make it shimmer in the sunlight. The day I visited the sky kept changing from bright, bright blue to grey and moody. It made for an interesting smorgasbord of views. After spending some time wandering and photographing it, I can attest that this building "works" no matter how it's lit.
Its intricate ornamentation has early Egyptian, Persian, Byzantine, Greek, Renaissance and Gothic influences. Can you say eclectic? But surprisingly the mixture blends nicely. As a reflection of the Bahá'í's inclusive faith, the Christian cross, the Jewish Star of David, the Islamic Crescent as well as Hindu and Buddhist religious symbols can be found on its facade.
The building itself has nine sides and the Bahá'í symbol, the nine-sided star, plays a prominent role in the ornamentation as well. It sits on meticulously manicured gardens and the entire space seems to ooze serenity and peace.
Completed in 1953 after delays caused by the Depression and World War II, the temple is listed both on the United States register of Historic Places and has been named one of the seven wonders of Illinois.
My visit was intentionally timed so that I could experience a worship service in the 1200 seat auditorium. The Bahá'í have no clergy, so the thirty minute devotions included a cappella music and scripture readings by members of the congregation.
The Bahá'í Temple (100 Linden Ave, Wilmette) is open to the public daily from 6 a.m. - 10 p.m. and there is no admission charged. Except for brief prayer services held at 9:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. the auditorium is a quiet place for prayer and meditation. It's a short walk from the last stop on the purple line and there is both street parking and a small surface lot available if you decide to drive.