Sunday, January 23, 2011

Unique, out-of-the-box Mormon Temples

I like the traditional architectural styles seen in most temples.  Even so, some of my favorite temples don't follow traditional architectural styles and are very modern, contemporary, or are just different from your typical neo-classical / neo-gothic / traditional temples.  I want to talk about these truly unique temples.

Portland Oregon Temple
All of the 6 spire sloped roof temples stray from the normal neo-classical mold of temples - and I think they do it in a really good way.  I think the Portland Oregon Temple is the best of the 6 spire sloped roof temples and it definitely brings variety to its architecture.  This building feels different from other buildings, as I think a temple should.  It has translucent stone, triangular staircases, an elongated hexagonal floor plan, a multi-level celestial room, and very unique spires.  The spires use pointed arches in ways I've never seen before and fit perfectly in the densely wooded site.  This temple shows that a temple can be very different from the common idea of a temple and be even better because of that creativity and difference.

San Diego California Temple
Here is a temple that breaks the mold.  No other temple shares its floor plan (rumors are that the cost of the temple has led to no duplicates).  Yet here is a temple that is truly breath taking.  The immaculate white exterior speaks of holiness.  The soaring towers elevate our thoughts to God and heavenly things.  The stained glass shines and brings light filled with hidden symbols.  Each corner tower and the base is largely solid.  This gives the temple a feeling of strength and protection, while the stained glass windows give it a warm, airy, delicate feel at the same time.  The numerous angles pierce the sky like beautiful ice crystals in a snow flake.  People have complained that it looks like a Disney castle.  I think that is a bit of a stretch, but even so - who cares? It is beautiful, complex, interesting, inspiring, and blesses the lives of many people.  Unfortunately I have yet to visit this temple, but I look forward to eventually go there.

The Hague Netherlands Temple
The first style of small temples were all basically the same with only very minor variations in their floor plans.  The most unique of them was the The Hague Netherlands Temple.  This temple took the floor plan from the 2 endowment room first small temple style, and then changed the stone details to make the temple look like a dignified modern building instead of an identical twin to the other small temples.  Beautiful stained glass and metal elements were included that make this temple appear like a temple with 2000s architecture.  The temple even has a bridge leading to the front door.  I really like this temple.

Cardston Alberta Temple

The first temple started after the Salt Lake Temple was the Cardston Alberta Canada Temple.  I am a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural style, and the Cardston Temple architects were as well.  The temple is done in his prairie style and in plan view is a Greek cross.  I like the dignity of this temple, its strength, and the uniqueness of the architecture.  While being fine and decorative, it is clearly not just a neo-classical temple.  The interior is filled with murals and fine woodwork.  The woodwork uses woods imported from around the world.  As one progresses through the temple the woodwork becomes more detailed and expensive with intricate inlays made out of rare woods.  This also means that the celestial room is covered in dark woods.  The sealing rooms are also covered in dark woods.  This may seem odd as celestial rooms and sealing rooms are usually very white or at least light colored.  Here, the finest woods and inlays are what makes these rooms the nicest, not just the color white.  The Laie Hawaii Temple is by the same architects and uses a smaller version of the same floor plan.  The Mesa Arizona Temple is also influenced by this temple's style.

Cardston Alberta Temple Sealing Room

Cardston Alberta Temple Celestial Room

Oakland California Temple
This temple has the distinction of being the only temple with 5 towers/spires (I actually think the Cochabamba Bolivia Temple has 5 towerss, but it is always listed as a 1 spire temple).  The Oakland Temple also is unique with what appear like Asian influences.  The spires have a beautiful laced gold design.  Also, decorative bas relief sculptures of Christ and a stylized tree of life design (seen in the spires link) are included in this unique temple.

Mexico City Mexico Temple
The Mexico City Temple is essentially a 4 endowment room version of the Provo, Ogden, and Jordan River Temples.  In this variation, ancient American architecture has been included in the precast concrete panels that cover the temple.  This is done very well and keeps the temple unique while having a definite connection to the area where it was built and still being ornate.

Washington D.C. Temple
The Washington D.C. Temple was meant to echo themes from the Salt Lake Temple while at the same time being its own building.  This temple is the tallest temple and the 3rd largest by square footage.  I think it is an excellent modern interpretation of the Salt Lake Temple with simplified brilliant translucent white stone, ornate symbolic doors, abstract stained glass, and a commanding presence.

Jordan River Utah Temple
This is the temple I first did baptisms for the dead in and was endowed in.  I was also a temple worker there and it is currently my temple (although I'm planning to move to Ogden soon).  I like how the exterior takes what is essentially a box and adds this swooping pattern and inverted arches (not circular arches, but parabolic or perhaps hyperbolic arches).  The abstract stained glass works as well.  This temple reaches to be different and makes the box not so objectionable.  The repeated vertical lines combine with the spire to give a vertical effect drawing your eyes and mind heavenward.  My only complaints are that you can smell the cafeteria from the baptistery (which is kind of gross mixed with chlorine smell), the confirmation rooms look like poorly maintained closets, and there are a few other minor issues.  Each of these could be fixed in a short 2 week closure or at most a month or two closure.

Provo Utah and Ogden Utah Temples
I'm including these temples on the list because they are definitely very non-traditional temples.  I don't think they achieve the goal of making a building unique and better for being unique.  Don't misunderstand, I like these temples, but they take some time to get used to.  They are meant to symbolize a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day guiding Israel.  Unfortunately they make most people think of a spaceship or a birthday cake complete with candle.  The attempt was interesting, but I'm glad that the Ogden Temple is being remodeled (which is also for seismic reasons).  I think the Provo Temple should also be upgraded.  I wouldn't be opposed to the upgrade keeping the same basic look but using stone panels instead of cast stone and changing other details.  If you could get it to work then that is fine by me.  I also wouldn't mind leaving the look of Provo the same and just upgrading structural problems which I assume exist.  I actually really like the Ogden and Provo temples' interiors for the most part.  They are modern and sleek in a good way.  I think the baptisteries could use slight improvements, but otherwise I think the interiors work.

The Bern Switzerland, Hamilton New Zealand, and London England Temples
I'd better add a few words about these temples as well.  They are modern, despite having the shape of chapels with front spires.  Exterior ornamentation is nearly non-existent.  This takes a while to get used to.  I served my mission in the England London Mission and got to go to the London England Temple 3 times.  I like the temple, but understand that the exterior is plain and takes some time to get used to.  For this reason I don't think these 3 temples are entirely successful in their architecture.  Still, the London Temple is special to me and I like it.  I also like the Bern and Hamilton Temples.  The London Temple's interior was really nice.  I also noticed that the London Temple's architecture doesn't try to compete with the ornate European architecture and perhaps this is good because it is hard to compare to old cathedrals.  In this case, the temples end up unique at the expense of being plain.

Those are the temples I wanted to discuss.  I could have talked about the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple - but it is similar to many central spire temples.  I do like it a lot and enjoyed the inside.  I could have discussed the L.A. temple, but I haven't been there and the exterior is a bit different.  There are probably other temples I could have discussed, but then you as a reader wouldn't have anything to comment on.  So please comment and tell us about unique, truly different temples that break from the traditional temple styles and architecture.  Or comment on some of the temples I've discussed.


Anna Bruen said...

One comment regarding the "translucent stone" in the Portland Temple, for those who have not been there... The rooms in the temple that have an outer wall, have "windows" of marble that are so thinly sliced, that the sun shines through on a sunny day. The rooms that I know of are the chapel (where you wait for endowment sessions to start), and the Celestial Room. Although, the Celestial Room has tapestry drapes hanging over these "windows." It is really quite remarkable to see, especially if the wind is also blowing, you can see the shadows of the trees moving.

Clark Herlin said...

I have been through the San Diego California Temple a bunch on my mission. Beautiful Temple

Tolman said...

I love your blog. I also am pleased to see you linked to a number of my photos.

Also on the topic of the translucent marble in the Portland Temple, I have taken a great photo at night with the light on the inside showing through.

You can also see the sunstone at the top of the lighted portion on the largest view.

Don said...

You've mentioned some of the very modern temples here, which I love. On a personal level, I'm quite sad to see the modernity of the Ogden Temple being replaced with yet another granite structure that's more or less a copy of all the others being built now. I hear a lot of people call the Provo and Ogden Temples "ugly." I think they're failing to see beyond what is currently fashionable. The architecture of the pioneer temples became unfashionable, too, but we didn't tear them down and rebuild them as modern. (OK, you could argue we did in Logan.)

The London Temple has been dramatically refurbished--practically rebuilt on the inside--and now has a much more traditional style of design and decoration than the modern, mid-century temple it originally was. Essentially the same thing also happened in Switzerland.

Anyway, when it comes to modern temple design, one that strongly stands out in my mind and isn't on your list is the Idaho Falls Temple. It was built in the early 1940s and, architecturally, it's certainly one of the most modern buildings the Church has ever produced. Unfortunately, when the current entrance was added, there was no apparent regard for the design that already existed. The last time I was there I walked through an extremely traditional, dark-wood-paneled room with colonial-style brass chandeliers before stepping into the main temple which has light woods and was made in a more-or-less Art Deco style.

Scott said...

I thought of adding the Idaho Falls Temple as I do love it. Many temples have followed the center tower style so I didn't include it, but I do love it. I do hate it when architectural styles clash (as in the infamous Salt Lake Temple "yellow brick road" tunnel that was a 60's atrocity. Thankfully the tunnel has been redone. I also hate how the Logan Temple's interior doesn't even attempt to match the exterior.

Also, I LOVE art deco and am glad to hear that someone else at least knows what it is.

As for the Ogden Temple, I half agree with you. I like it, yet the outside is legitimately weird and has been disliked since before construction was completed. It never conveyed the meaning it was supposed to. Also, it needed a seismic upgrade so the renovations aren't just aesthetic. I would have been alright with an upgrade to the panels, etc. while leaving the style the same. But I would never have suggested they build another Ogden of Provo style temple as that style just didn't work on the exterior. On a side note, I like their interiors.

I do challenge the assertion that the exterior of Ogden is now a copy. It clearly is not. It has a central spire (and always did) and now will have stone and stained glass cladding. The shape is now more angular. This doesn't make it the same as other temples, despite having some common features which are mostly due to the constraints of using the existing building. Many argue that the church's temples are cookie cutter now, but in the last 10 years we have seen the development of more styles. Each temple style will have 5-10 variations (and they now vary a lot). Currently we have 2 towered styles, front tower (chapel) styles, and several different center tower styles. Also, although stone is common, some of the most recent temples use different materials such as precast concrete (Brigham City, Kansas City, Twin Falls, Rexburg, Gila Valley, etc.)

Slim said...


I served my mission in Sacramento and was able to attend the Oakland Temple a handful of times (the Sacramento Temple was announced during my mission). I still remember my first time driving up to it. Coming off the freeway you would never know there is a temple right there. Then you turn the corner and there it is staring you in the face. It does have a beautiful backdrop.

One thing I love about this temple is that you are able to walk up on the roof. This is a unique feature that I have not seen in any other temple. The views of the bay area are amazing from the unique vantage point.

As for the Salt Lake Temple, it was very nice to see them change the "yellow brick road" when they redid the entrance some years back.

His Image in Our Countenance said...

Whilst the architecture is not unique, the finish of the Johannesburg temple certainly is; I do not believe there is another brick temple? The mix of stonework and brick is also quite exceptional, and for those who know where to look the inclusio of stone from the original nauvoo temple is a treat.

Scott said...

The Vernal Utah and Copenhagen Denmark Temples are both brick. I still like the brick on the Johannesburg Temple.

Ryan said...

I'd imagine this list could be quite a bit longer. For all the tempes in a very similar temple era there are quite a few that are completely one of a kind. Even some of the modern "repeated" styling temples are very different like Newport Beach (if only because the exterior is so unique)

Russ said...

You have an amazing blog - one that I will have to visit quite a bit more!

One of the benefits of my job is that I get to see some of the plans for structures being constructed in Ogden City, and I had the opportunity to look over the temple plans. It certainly changed my opinion about it being a cookie-cutter design. It will retain its 6 Ordinance rooms, while a few other parts of the temple are shifted around and repositioned. Looking at some of the interior features, I have to say that it will be quite the beautiful building.

While it has been difficult to watch what has been essentially a piece-by-piece dismantling of the temple, I'm comforted to know that it will be back in just over a year. has a great section that shows construction photos and has a link to the webcam.

MCS said...

I work in the Provo temple, and we were told in a training meeting that it is highly unlikely for Provo to be remodeled like Ogden. There has been a lot of money spent for decorative improvements inside the building (a mural in the chapel, new chandeliers, extra gold leaf), so it is extremely unlikely that the Church will demolish all that in the near future. Ogden, however, did not receive any sort of upgrade for several years before its remodel was announced!

Anyway, if they were to close Provo for a Laie or Atlanta style remodel (closed for a year for refurbishment and stuff), I expect that it would be after the Tabernacle and Payson temples are done so as not to overwhelm Timp with the extra traffic.

Mfundo Radebe said...

The face brick on the Johannesburg temple is beautiful but I mean many houses in South Africa sport it, including mine... Of course it was built long ago when the brick was hard to get but thank goodness its about to undego renovation when Durban South Africa temple is built and dedicated. I think it could use an exterior revamp. Just an opinion

Brett Stirling said...

My understanding is that the plan is a Maltese Cross (due to the corner towers between the main arms) and the Laie Hawaii Temple has the Greek Cross plan.

The New Zealand Temple is quite difficult to get used to because of the materials used. Unlike London which has Portland Stone I think and the Swiss with it's ceramic tiles, the Hamilton Temple was built from cinder block manufactured on site. Therefore the exterior hasn't aged well. It looks best at night lit up with flood lights which gives a more consistent white glow. In the 90's the surrounds of the entrance was clad in white marble which gives it a much nicer look. However, moving through the outer doors into the first inner foyer, it is very plain and terribly small. To be honest it isn't the nicest entrance to a Temple. Beyond that of course is the inner foyer with the recommend desk. This Temple is in dire need of a significant upgrade both inside and out.