Sunday, April 3, 2011

Distinctively Mormon Temples

While researching about the Cardston Alberta Canada Temple I cam across this article.  In it, the author praises the Cardston Temple as his favorite temple; however, he adds this statement:
Despite my Prairie-School love, I am not even completely comfortable with the Cardston temple. After all, it is a fine work derivative of a larger tradition. Its primary aesthetic is not distinctively Mormon.                                   (emphasis added)
 This made me think about what is distinctively Mormon architecture and what temples meet this criteria.  Let me be clear from the start, I don't think a temple has to have distinctively Mormon architecture to be a good temple or great architecture.  Some of my favorite temples are in styles common to the rest of the world.  We are supposed to take what is good in the world and apply it to us.  At the same time, using architecture that is distinctively Mormon has great benefits.  It allows a temple to be recognized as a temple, and not just by using an Angel Moroni statue.  Distinctively Mormon architecture also is usually filled with symbolism.  Also, our architecture was often a conglomeration of various styles brought by immigrants from around the world.  The resulting eclectic styles contained a history of the gospel going to all nations and of the gathering of Israel.

I'd like to see some discussion on what you think is distinctively Mormon temple architecture, how it has been used, and how it is being used in newer temples.  I'll begin the discussion by focusing on what I see as distinctively Mormon architecture.

Six Towered (or spired) Temples
While the interiors of the Kirtland, Nauvoo, and St. George Temples contained unique architecture, their exteriors borrowed heavily from architectural precedents and weren't really distinctly Mormon on a macro level.  The Logan (1884), Manti (1888), and Salt Lake Temples (1893) introduced the highly symbolic 6 tower style that I see as being distinctively Mormon.  This and the castellated style (also present in St. George) make these temples easily identified as Mormon, despite the fact that two of them lack statues of the Angel Moroni.  The towers represent the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods with 3 towers on each side.  The west three towers represent the Presiding Bishopric, or any bishopric in the church.  These are the leaders of the Aaronic Priesthood.  The east towers represent the First Presidency of the church, the leaders of the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Priesthood is an important principle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is inseparably connected with the temple and is woven firmly into the ordinances of the temple,

Visually, the six tower architectural style makes these temples look unlike any other religious buildings I know of.  Chapels and cathedrals throughout Christendom use single spires and sometimes two spires on one end.  The six spire architecture used in LDS Temples is a unique style.

The Washington D.C. Temple (1974) was built to visually echo the iconic Salt Lake Temple's architecture.  One way it accomplished this was through the use of six towers (three on each side).  Even though the Washington D.C. Temple is very modern and sleek in its design, I think it is also distinctively Mormon in its architecture.  It is a successful fusion of styles that keeps the priesthood symbolism intact on the macro scale.

In the 1980s the church began to build numerous six towered temples.  These are often referred to as the six spire sloped roof temples (or sometimes derogatorily as the six spire meetinghouse temples).  I personally really like this style and think it succeeds in being uniquely Mormon.  The following temples used this style:


I have placed an asterisk next to the Frankfurt Germany Temple because it uses the same style, but actually only has one spire.  Two other temples look similar the these temples with six spires.  These temples used a different, larger floor plan and have a lot more detail on the spires, use sun, moon, star, and earth stones, etc.  These are the:


Each of these temples from Boise to Las Vegas has architecture the looks distinctively Mormon to me.  The multiple spires and their symbolic arrangement sets these buildings apart from other religious buildings in the world as LDS Temples.  I have been to the grounds of the Boise Temple and have attended the Dallas, Portland, and Las Vegas Temples.  I like how each is, although the Portland and Las Vegas Temples excel in their internal architecture.  I like the interior of the Dallas Temple as well, but it isn't as well executed., mainly due to a necessary addition.  That and the endowment room seats have a hideous pattern on them, in my opinion.

I've heard and read that the church has tried to build temples with six spires since the 1980s but has been unsuccessful, mainly due to protests from neighbors and burdensome local building codes and planning committees.  This is unfortunate because using six spires is a way that LDS Temples display their identity and symbolically teach important principles through sacred architecture.  The Brigham City Utah Temple  (currently under construction) was the first temple in a long time to have six towers (counting the corner spire-less towers)
The Brigham City Utah Temple
Two Towered Temples
The San Diego California Temple (1993) has two main towers (although additional towers bring the total to 10) and the Vernal Utah Temple, (1997) created by extensively remodeling the Uintah Stake Tabernacle, also has two towers.  In the last few years, the church has begun building more two towered temples.  This is a creative way to symbolically represent the priesthood, while using only two towers.  These temples echo the Logan and Manti Temples which had six towers, but only two prominent ones.  Several Temples use this style, including the aforementioned Brigham City Temple which actually has six towers.  Currently, the church is building the Kansas City Missouri Temple and Rome Italy Temple using two towers,  It has been reported that the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple will have two towers.  Other temple(s) now in the planning stages also use the two tower style.  I really like these styles.  The two towered style brings symbolism and strength to the temples.  It also looks distinctively uniquely Mormon to me.  I think this is especially helped by keeping the towers on opposite ends of the temples.
Kansas City Missouri Temple
Rome Italy Temple
Having either six towered or two towered temples is one way I think our temples become distinctively Mormon.  They look different from other architecture on the macro level, even while borrowing from many types of common architecture.  I hope the church continues to build two towered temples and I also hope that we resume building six towered temples as well.

I've only covered a small part of what I think is distinctively Mormon temple architecture.  Please comment and let us know what you see as being distinctively Mormon architecture and how it is - or can be - applied to temples.

7 comments:

Jon said...

I'd like to see more temples like the Oakland temple, which has five towers. What does five towers symbolize (if anything)? Can a five-towered temple be said to be distinctly Mormon?

Jon said...

PS, I think the architecture of the Rome temple is really interesting. It's simple and modern --- everything all the other religious architecture in Rome is not.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

I don't think the Oakland Temple's five spires symbolize anything. We could make up symbolism and say the four corner towers represent gathering from the four corners of the earth, but that would be making symbolism up.
I thought about adding the Oakland Temple to my list, but it seems more oriental than distinctively Mormon.

I also love the Rome Temple. I don't think a classical temple would have worked there as it wouldn't have stood out or been able to compete. As a modern (and yet detailed) sleek temple, it is elegant and inspiring. It works. I also like the two tower symbolism and the square complete with statuary.

Brian said...

My favorite thing about the Rome Temple is the curves. At first glance it appears to be square, but in the video the church released you can see that the sides of both the towers and the Temple Proper, curve from back to front. Curves on such a structural level are really a new idea for the church. Ithink only Ogden and Provo had curves before, but I could be wrong.

Scott said...

Ogden and Provo currently have the most pronounced curves, although the Recife Brazil Temple has a curved part jutting out from the temple, almost like a bay window.

I also love the Rome Temple. The curves caught my attention almost immediately. I love how sleek and modern it is, while still looking detailed and nice. I think it will fit in perfectly in Rome.

Ryan said...

Rome is very interesting. I thinking the conference center in SLC is one of the church most beautiful buildings. I feel like the Rome Temple follows that same design school. I'm surprised at how modern it is though. Rome isn't as classical as some are implying. With all the ancient ruins and more modern catholic buildings there is still quite a bit of modern city.

Part of my wouldve like to see a very roman Rome Temple. Domes (it's the city of domes), a gorgeous fountain. We could totally beat the vatican.