Build Your Own Chicago

Build Your Own Chicago is a series of postcards published by Wurlington Brothers Press which can be cut and assembled into miniature paper models of prominent Chicago landmarks. We look for some of the spirit, if not the complexity, of the beautiful "Micromodels" designed by Geoffrey Heighway in the 1950s. All postcards are designed and drawn by Matt Bergstrom.

The postcards generallly measure 4-5/8" x 6-3/4" and include all pieces and instructions necessary to make one model. All the cards are mailable postcards, with space on the reverse of the card for a stamp and address and a message. Each card also includes a short but informative description of the landmark the model represents. Instructions are included in the form of multi-lingual isometric diagrams on the front of the cards. If you would like more detailed instruction for any of the models, visit the How To Build It page.

The Bahai House of Worship, located in Wilmette just outside Chicago, is the North American center of the Bahai Faith. Construction of the temple began in 1920 and was not completed until 1953, in part due to the complexity of architect Luis Bourgeois' elaborately ornamental design. The delicate traceries of the nine-sided dome are created from cast concrete of white cement and quartz. Flowers and peaceful gardens surround the building on a hilltop overlooking Lake Michigan.

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The Annotated: Baha'i Temple

{josquote}Is it a rocket ship? Was it a refueling station for German U-boats? Does it house a white whale?{/josquote}

Is it a rocket ship? Was it a refueling station for German U-boats? Does it house a white whale? Those are just a few of the bizarre rumors that have swirled around the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette since its completion in 1953 (official answers: no, no, and no). But no matter what the tall tales, the nearly 20-story-high domed temple along the lakeshore does have a certain mystique. Open to the public with free admission, it receives about 250,000 visitors annually—even though only about 4,000 Baha’i (pronounced: buh-HIGH) worshipers live around Chicago.

1. The temple’s architect, the French Canadian Louis Bourgeois, lived in downtown Chicago when the project began, but chose to shorten his commute, building a studio and home across the street from the temple, on Sheridan Road. He died at 74 in 1930, more than 20 years before the building’s completion. His studio home is now used as a meeting place for U.S. Baha’i elected delegates.

2. Measuring 135 feet from floor to ceiling, and 72 feet in diameter, the dome represents unity—a central theme of the Baha’i faith. At the height of the dome’s ceiling is an inscription that has been a source of misinterpretation. Some have said the writing resembles the word “evil” in English; in fact, the script is Arabic calligraphy that translates to “Oh, Glory of the Most Glorious.” The auditorium inside seats 1,200 and was designed as a sanctuary where people of all faiths can pray and meditate.

3. Intricate carvings depicting the symbols of other religions on the nine exterior pillars represent the central Baha’i canon: that all major religions are actually reflections of a single divine source. The symbols are arranged in chronological order—from bottom to top—on the pillars. That’s why the swastika is at the base, with the Star of David above it (although it was adopted by the Nazis, the swastika as a religious symbol dates back nearly 5,000 years). Baha’i is the newest world religion—so its symbol, a nine-pointed star, tops each pillar.

4. In addition to domes, all Baha’i temples share two other design elements: they are always nine-sided (the number nine symbolizes completeness for Baha’is); and all temples are encircled with gardens (Baha’i readings contain metaphors likening human beings to flowers in a garden). The Wilmette temple’s grounds feature rows of Chinese juniper trees, nine fountains, and two dozen varieties of flowers, including 20,000 new tulip bulbs planted each fall.

photography: © 2006 Aerial Images Photography, insets Rob Goodwin

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Baha'i Temples

Some photos and writings of Baha'i Houses of Worship around the World.


Holy spots & places of worship - a photoset

Flickr contains millions of photos submitted by people all around the world. I had a browse through the thousands of photos tagged with the word "Baha'i/Bahai" and came up with this photoset from Leili Towfigh:

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Olive Grove

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Check out more photo-sets on one of Leili's pages on Flickr.

Baha'i World Centre

Our favorite pictures of the Baha'i World Centre taken in 2003-5