First Christian Church - Atlas Obscura

First Christian Church

This striking church was built from a Frank Lloyd Wright design more than a decade after the master architect's death. 

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While Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings are widely celebrated, his work isn’t exactly rare. The prolific architect designed around 1,000 buildings in his lifetime, which range from corporate headquarters and private residences to a museum, skyscraper, and even a gas station. After his death, his output slowed considerably, but not quite to zero. One of his final designs to be constructed is the First Christian Church, which was constructed more than a decade after his death.

In 1949, the Southwest Christian Seminary commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright, then in his 80s, to design a sprawling university campus. Wright was no stranger to the Phoenix metropolitan area, having decamped to his winter studio, Taliesin West, since 1937. However, the seminary closed the next year, and the design, which included a centerpiece chapel, was never built.

Wright died in 1959, but in the early 1970s, First Christian Church was looking to expand and struggling to find a design. Church leaders approached Wright’s widow, Olgivanna Wright, to purchase and implement Wright’s lost design, and Taliesin Associated Architects, which was staffed by Wright’s former apprentices, was contracted to build his work posthumously. Construction was led by Wright’s son-in-law, William Wesley Peters, who during this period was navigating a whirlwind marriage, separation, and divorce from Josef Stalin’s daughter. Despite the distraction, the building was completed in 1973.

The church was well-received by critics and is generally considered among the most significant works ever produced by Taliesin Associated. The basic unit of the church is the triangle—a reference to the Holy Trinity. The building was designed to look like a triangle from all perspectives, and is supported by 23 triangular pillars. Made from local stone, First Church’s spire also resembles a triangle despite being four-sided.

The most striking feature is the 120-foot-tall bell tower whose four unequal sides, all self-supporting, and made from more than 300 tons of concrete, also look like a triangle. And resembles the Scottsdale Spire, which like the church is one of the few Frank Lloyd Wright designs to be built posthumously.

Know Before You Go

First Christian Church is a nondenominational church with an active congregation. The church is open for services and events. For all other information, call the church or visit its website.

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