My brother who is currently on a mission just attended the Montreal Quebec Canada Temple. Prior to this he had only been to full and medium sized temples. It got me thinking about the small temples.
President Hinckley announced that small temples would be built to meet the needs of members of the church worldwide. While this seemed like a new thing to most people (including myself) it actually wasn't the first attempt to build small temples. Here is a little history:
The first real small temples were built in Bern Switzerland, Hamilton New Zealand, and London England. These 3 temples were built internationally to be close to the members. They were minor variations of the same floor plan. They were also smaller than previous temples with only a single endowment room. Recording the portions of the endowment that were performed by actors and then playing that performance on a video screen allowed the temples to be built small. Gordon B. Hinckley (later President and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was heavily involved in this process. He seems to have been involved a lot in smaller temple design throughout the decades.
The next push for small temples came in the 1970s and 1980s with President Spencer W. Kimball building many temples simultaneously. This is when the church built the 6 spire sloped roof design of temples. While these often had multiple rooms, they were fairly small temples (and identified as small temples in talks and articles of the time). Similarly, Polynesian temples and the Sydney Australia Temple were built using really similar floor plans, little space, and some cut backs. For example, many temples built in this time period didn't have oxen supporting the baptismal fonts. This was mainly done to save money because, despite popular perception, the church does not have infinite resources. Bringing the blessings of the temple to the people was more important that the temples have sculpted oxen. While I'm glad that many (if not all) of these temples have since had oxen added to the baptisteries, I am glad that we have and had leadership in the church that understood that getting the people temple blessings was more important than waiting until we had money to intricately furnish them. I'm also glad that we have a lot better financial means to furnish temples today. Had I been in charge I probably would have pushed for a lot of fancy details and would have ended up with 1 or 2 less temples and many people lacking temple blessings.
So prior to President Hinckley's announcement in the late 1990s that smaller temples would be built, some attempts at building small temples had been done. These utilized smaller size and similar floor plans to make the temples financially viable and were built worldwide to reach out to members of the church everywhere.
President Hinckely's small temple designs were very good. I have been in the St. Paul Minnesota Temple, Palmyra New York Temple, Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple, Monticello Utah Temple, Oklahoma City Oklahoma Temple, and Twin Falls Idaho Temple, in addition to the Vernal Utah Temple and Manhattan New York Temple, both of which are small temples, but made out of existing buildings. They are each very nice wonderful temples.
The first Hinckley small temples were built in Anchorage Alaska, Colonia Juarez Mexico, and Monticello Utah. Each of these were remote and very small with only 1 endowment room and 1 sealing room. They were experimental with the locations chosen so church leadership could easily visit and see what did and did not work. They ended up being too small. Within a few short years both the Alaska and Monticello temples were remodeled with additions adding a second endowment room and a second sealing room.
From then on, small temples have been built with 2 endowment rooms, a celestial room, 2 sealing rooms, and a baptistery. The temples cut out unnecessary components such as laundry facilities, cafeterias, extra rooms, and in most cases chapels or waiting areas. This has allowed the small temples to be very finely decorated while still being affordable to the church. It is such a wonderful idea.
This second batch of small temples looked like the first but with the extra endowment and sealing rooms. Several advantages of the floor plan were that:
1. Using a common floor plan and decorations reduced architect's and engineer's time and cost to design the temples.
2. The temples had a small footprint and were short, making them much easier to get construction approval in cities. I like more prominent buildings, but had the church pushed for tall, prominent buildings, it would have taken much longer to construct these temples as many residents and cities would have had an easier time blocking construction.
3. The single story design made the temples easier to design (I'm saying this as a structural engineer) and less expensive to build.
4. The small design and lack of cafeterias and laundry areas reduced operational costs such as cafeteria and and laundry costs and general heating and air conditioning costs. Less volume = less utilities costs.
Several variations of this small temple design were built. Two story versions were built in Winter Quarters Nebraska, Snowflake Arizona, and Fukuoka Japan.
After a few years we had a lot of essentially one style of temple. Then the church began building a different style with some added height, new details, and a lot more variety to each temple. Don't be fooled, these temples were still very much small temples in every good sense. This style is seen in the Columbia River Washington, San Antonio Texas, Accra Ghana, and Newport Beach California Temples to name a few of the 9 temples of this style I count.
In the last few years several new small temple styles have emerged. There is a central spire style seen in the Panama City Panama and Kyiv Ukraine Temples and several temples currently under construction (Tegucigalpa Honduras, Calgary Alberta, Quetzltenango Guatelmala, and San Salvador El Salvador).
Concurrently the church has been building several small temples with a single forward spire - for example, Vancouver B.C. Canada and Manaus Brazil.
Another style of small temple is the style used for the rebuilt Apia Samoa Temple and the Gila Valley Arizona Temple. Although these may be the same floor plan as another small temple style and appear to be a unique style.
Recently there appear to be two styles for new small temples. The first is a two towered style seen in the Kansas City Missouri, Brigham City Utah, and Rome Italy temples. I am fairly sure this is actually just an alteration of the Vancouver B.C. Temple style. The second style is a shorter temple with a central spire seen in the new Phoenix Arizona Temple design and in the Cordoba Argentina Temple design. I have actually seen some of the new temple designs that have yet to be released to the public. Unfortunately I can't elaborate, but I can say that I like the designs I'm seeing the church do.
I like the small temples. When I first saw the St. Paul Minnesota Temple I thought - that's really small! - but I also thought it looked really nice and fine and like a temple despite being small. Inside it was finely detailed - more so than many of the large temples. Making it small means that every detail can be intricately done without the final cost being excessive. Many people complain about the temples being cookie cutter. I can understand the argument, but don't think it is all that strong. Yes, many are virtually the same building, but they are copies of the same really nice building - and are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart - so it is a little different than cookie cutter houses in a neighborhood. Still, it is nice to see the variety of newer small temples. The styles from the Columbia River Washington Temple on have used copies of various floor plans but with numerous variations in murals, moldings, height, carved elements, stained glass, etc. Each temple has been unique while clearly coming from a shared floor plan. Also, the church has slowed temple construction to 2-5 a year (which is still a lot, just not as many as the 15 built in 1999 or 34 built in 2000). Those were exceptional years where we essentially caught up on building temples. The current pace of around 5 temples a year allows for a lot more thought and individuality to go into the small temples. This is giving some wonderful results.
Small temples are here to stay and that is a good thing. Other temples are built medium sized and that is also a good thing. We really do have inspired leaders who know how to bless us.
Please comment and share your opinion about or information on small LDS temples.