A Mormon Megachurch? Or where is Truman O. Angell when you need him?

By December 3, 2007

In the last few weeks, I have been reminded of my disdain for modern Mormon architecture.  Watching the First Presidency Christmas Devotional at the LDS Conference Center earlier this evening was the latest of these reminders.  In contrast to 19th-century Mormon meeting halls (like this one I attended Stake Conference at last month) that were hand-crafted, relatively ornate, and aesthetically appealing, today’s cookie-cutter chapels (and an increasing number of temples) seem to have efficiency as their chief aim.

In a recent post, I mentioned that a google image search for “megachurch” produced an image of the interior of the LDS Conference Center as its first result.  It was then pointed out that it appeared that the website with the image didn’t even realize it was a Mormon building (as opposed to an evangelical building). 

However, it appears that others have noted the similarities between the 21,000 seat Mormon auditorium and other megachurches.  While one prominent researcher of megachurches defines them not only based on size and style of the building, but also on the theology of the church that occupies the structure.  However, Witold Rybczynski, in his 2005 article and slide show “An Anatomy of Megachurches: The New Look for Places of Worship,” over at slate.com, doesn’t hesitate to label the Conference Center as a megachurch.  Looking through the slide show and comparing the design to other Protestant megachurches, it is understandable why.  Commenting on the LDS building, Rybczynski says,

The largest religious assembly space in the country is the recently completed Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in downtown Salt Lake City. It was built to accommodate 21,000 people for the Semiannual General Conference of church members, but it also houses the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and is used for church pageants. The approach of the architects, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca of Portland, Ore., shows the influence megachurches have had on mainstream religions. The ecclesiastical imagery is confined to the giant pipe organ. The arena seating, the mainstream decor, the profusion of lighting and television broadcasting equipment, as well as the surrounding lobbies and vestibules, are distinctly secular. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

The last line seemed especially stinging.  Given what I regard as an architectural heritage that includes aesthetically-appealing temples and tabernacles with intentional symbolism and detailed craftsmanship, this new genre of Mormon architecture seems especially disheartening.  I wonder, though, if there are larger issues at stake than my personal preference for 19th-century Mormon building design.  How significant, if at all, is architecture to Mormon identity?  Have we negotiated that identity by following evangelical megachurches in creating symbol-less, “distinctly secular” styled buildings?

*I forgot to note when I originally wrote this up last night that Darren Grem’s post on “Megachurches, MegaEconomics” over at Religion in American History also inspired this post, and pointed me to some of the resources I drew from.


  1. But there’s a fundamental distinction between the conference center and megachurches. Conference is exceptional, a twice-annual event that a small minority of members attend, rather than a weekly meeting. The centers of Mormon religious life are the local chapels and stake centers (about whose architecture opinions also differ).

    If Rybczynski had looked at the tabernacle, would he have detected a less secular architecture? I’m not sure. It’s not exactly overflowing in religious artwork or stained glass.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — December 3, 2007 @ 5:38 am

  2. Okay, Jonathan beat me to it so I can only repeat it. The purposes and uses of the Conference Center are so different from the fundamental worship in chapels and temples that it would be astonishing if the architecture were NOT different. Faulting the Conference Center for not being your favorite early 20th-century chapel is like faulting a stadium for not being as cozy as your living room.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — December 3, 2007 @ 7:21 am

  3. I hate to be this blunt, but Rybczynski’s critique is crap – for the same reasons already mentioned in #1 and #2. It’s apples and oranges – and the last line smacks of the insertion of theological disdain (or at least religious prejudice) that I hope isn’t really there.

    Comment by Ray — December 3, 2007 @ 8:23 am

  4. Chris: I don’t know that Mormon architecture was that distinct from other contemporary architecture at any point, other than a few decorative flourishes on the Nauvoo Temple. And it probably wouldn’t have had the same sort of appeal to contemporaries, who probably would have regarded it as modern–cutting edge–sort of like we tend to view the conference center. And I personally think you are a little hard on the conference center–it suits its purpose in a way that a cathedral (totally impractical) or meetinghouse couldn’t. I enjoy more classic architecture also, though I often find attmepts to reproduce it somewhat kitchy. I do see a shift toward slighly more aesthetic buiildings going on. I think the real tragedy in Mormon architecture hasn’t been so much the newer cooki-cutter design (though much of what was built in the 70s and 80s is pretty sterile) but the demolition of so many of our great tabernacles and meetinghouses.

    Comment by stan — December 3, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  5. I remember when the Conference Center was newly opened and it was a favorite target for some people (most of whom could never say anything favorable about the church anyway) to mock the exterior architecture as piled-up shoeboxes or Fortress Nouveau or whatever. I stuck up for the architecture, at least tentatively, by noting how much I enjoyed walking past the building and noting how the lights and shadows changed in that row of narrow windows up high, and I predicted that once the landscaping had had a chance to mature, we would all enjy the architecture better. I’m going to claim some prophetic success there, by noting how gorgeous the east side of the building was this fall when the small trees were ablaze with red and gold leaves. The rough edges were softened, and the stone textures blended specacularly into the planting. It’s only going to get better as the landscaping continues to mature.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — December 3, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  6. Saying that the conference center is used for a distinctly different purpose than a chapel is not a valid counterargument against Chris’ point that the architectural design of the building is essentially modeled after that of other megachurches or secular buildings around the country. And by simply saying that the conference center is intended for utilitarian purposes does not excuse the lack of religious symbolism in the architecture.

    Ms. Parshall: The landscape does have a nice effect, but where are the beehives, seagulls, etc. that are uniquely Mormon symbols conveying meaning from our heritage? And I’m not talking about those lame fake seagulls across the street at the Trax station.

    Stan: I’m surprised that you’re not more interested in the absense of these symbols, given your research on the disappearance of the beehive and the All Seeing Eye from our religious space. Where has the symbolism gone from our worship space?

    Comment by David Grua — December 3, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  7. While twenty-first century Mormon architecture is admittedly rather sterile, it does say something important about the philosophy of the Church to provide the essentials for its members. Ninety-nine percent of the buildings constructed this year will follow a standard-plan concept, but that reflects the ideal that one hundred percent of the doctrine taught in those buildings will come from the standard curriculum.

    Stan: Catholic architecture, both in the grand scale of many cathedrals and the more intimate parish churches, serves not only to tell the story of the Gospel and history of the church to an historically illiterate congregation but also to inspire the communicants? minds to contemplate the beauty of God?s creation?hardly impractical. That hasn?t always been a priority for LDS architects as the focus of our worship is on the spoken word. We leave the burden of inspiring the hearts and minds of Church members to the speakers who must somehow invite that awe through the things they say. Of course, we are sometimes treated to a ?special musical number,? but the ?special? nature of those performances comes from their rarity.

    Comment by Jeffrey Cannon — December 3, 2007 @ 11:28 am

  8. I suspect that our modern architecture reflects the reality of providing meeting space for millions of members world wide, and cash is not a limitless commodity. “Cookie cutter” designs do bring a certain utilitarian economy to the mix that hopefully helps us remember that our churches in otherwise upscale Bellevue, WA, are not as ornate as some of the traditional protestant churches in the area so that we can also have adequate church buildings in Ghana, rural Chile, and other places that might not be able to build them on their own.

    When I moved from the Wasatch Front 14 years ago, I have found that I miss the old tabernacles. One of my favorites is the old tabernacle in Paris, Idaho North of Bear Lake. It’s a combination ofhand quarried stone on the outside with amazing wood work on the inside. But it was over twenty years in the quarrying and construction, if I recall. We probably can’t afford that sort of thing anymore.

    As times change, so does the architecture and construction.

    Comment by kevinf — December 3, 2007 @ 12:05 pm

  9. The Conference Center is no mega-church as I think of the term. It is part of a temple complex akin to what was envisioned for Jackson County. In the vicinity of Temple Square there are separate buildings for ordinance work, administration, meetings, record keeping, historical remembrance, art, welfare, research, and hospitality. The whole of this complex is at least a giga-church, and its extension via electronic communications extends its reach around the world making it a ter(r)a-church. (And when we have colonies in space it will be an exo-church.)

    The mega-church phenomena is largely a feat of commercialization of religion (i.e. priestcraft). I have been in mega churches that were as much shopping mall as assembly hall. They call themselves non-denominational, but there are some which are in effect becoming denominations as they branch out and build facilities in multiple cities.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 3, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  10. Kevinf, I have the distinct impression that we could afford it greatly more than the Saints who built it. the difference is that we have changed priorities.

    In an age when transience is the norm, there is no real incentive to sacrifice for our buildings. When I go to Ephraim and Manti, I am deeply connected to the architecture, because it is my family that helped erect it. We are not building for our families anymore.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 3, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  11. Temple architecture does include lots of symbolism, much of which goes by unnoticed by the members as they go about their ordinance work. It is worthy of contemplation, however, and certainly deserves more attention. If newer temples have less it is because they are more “Endowment House” than classic temple.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 3, 2007 @ 12:36 pm

  12. How significant, if at all, is architecture to Mormon identity? Have we negotiated that identity by following evangelical megachurches in creating symbol-less, ?distinctly secular? styled buildings?

    Architecture is very fashionable, and construction companies are often very persuasive when it comes to the design of a large costly structure. They will have a myriad of recommendations for the fastest and most cost efficient path to the construction of a building. In today’s market, speed seems to be a priority over everything else. Cost coming second. It is no surprise that intrincate and highly ornate buildings are disappearing.

    I am also disheartened to see the new trends that are being followed for Church buildings. It is overly simplistic, or in plain words: boring. Squares and straight lines seem to be the greatest effort to add ornamentation to our new buildings.

    The first time I saw the Conference Center, one thing came to my mind: Alcatraz main prision building. OK, that is unfair, I know. But having been to both, I definitely can see architectural similarities.

    Some of my favorite buildings:

    Seattle Public Library

    And the upcoming Guadalajara Mexico Soccer Stadium

    More detailed views of the stadium here

    Comment by Manuel — December 3, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

  13. Hm… the Seattle Public library link points to the Conference Center… well, nice pics of this amazing building can be found HERE!

    Comment by Manuel — December 3, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  14. I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but the first two times I saw The Book of Mormon Movie I was convinced that the director used the Center as the Great and Spacious Building. Then I watched some of the extras, and was disappointed to see that it was actually a miniature. Still, though, the similarities are striking.

    This is probably why I’m still three years out from my degree.

    Comment by Matt B — December 3, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  15. OK, now to argue the other side. The comparison of the conference center to megachurches does reflect that both types of buildings serve similar functions: focusing all members of a very large public on the spoken words of one individual. Getting together for that purpose twice a year is probably OK, even in an ugly building, although I didn’t think the conference center was ugly.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — December 3, 2007 @ 1:05 pm

  16. Stapley, you are right, we can more afford those buildings now than the buildings built by our pioneer ancestors. I recall helping to build a stake center in Ogden, Utah as a kid, so I remember it well, along with the Ogden Tabernacle, which I also know because I worked as a volunteer night watchman there when our seminaries in high school had Christmas displays around the grounds. It was before the Temple was built next door.

    I will grant that the blandness of our buildings sometimes works against us. Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks” movie used an LDS ward building exterior as a stand in for a nursing home. Only LDS audience members would have noted the difference. As a result, whenever I see some of the standard plan buildings in the St. George area, I think of Slim Whitman’s music.

    That tangent aside, I understand the uniform/utilitarian building designs as an effort to make buildings more affordable. In reality, it’s more important what happens in those buildings than that they are ornate and beautiful. Temples can fill that function for us.

    Gothic architecture in cathedrals was meant, I suspect, to both point the worshiper towards heaven, and also to intimidate them into obedience. None of our current buildings are capable of intimidation, I suspect, but the SLC, Washington DC, and San Diego temples do inspire awe in me.

    Comment by kevinf — December 3, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  17. Following Jonathan: This is an important point. It’s something Mormons inherited from Protestants: the Word preached, for them, is the first means of grace. All the statues and paintings and mosaics the Catholics used they considered idolatrous, flawed human attempts to recreate the means God had already given in the text of the Bible to instruct and convey the Spirit.

    Thus, churches were focused on the Word; the seats were oriented to the pulpit, and the rest was utilitarian.

    I’m not sure we’ve thought through this that closely, but the legacy is there, I think.

    Comment by Matt B — December 3, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  18. Citizen Grua: There are a number of such Mormon symbols inside the Conference Center, starting with the sego lily etched glass. If you haven’t noticed that, you haven’t looked closely enough.

    The point of my commenting on the growing beauty of the architecture probably wasn’t clear. I mean that novelty almost always provokes a negative reaction until you give yourself time enough and are willing to learn what is going on.

    I think most people thought the Salt Lake Temple was garish when they first saw it — it mixes so many types of architecture, and can’t make up its mind whether it’s gothic (spires) or romanesque (windows) or norman (battlements). Yet with time it has grown on us to the point where it is THE quintessential Mormon architecture.

    People think the Conference Center is ugly because they don’t understand the piled-up-shoeboxes exterior or the megachurch interior. Give it time. Get familiar with it so that you can identify what’s beautiful and not get stuck on what’s new, like your grandmother when she turned up her nose at your favorite music. It will grow on you, if you let it.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — December 3, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

  19. Ray (#3), you assert that the last line smacks of the insertion of theological disdain (or at least religious prejudice) that I hope isn?t really there.. I think it’s safe to say that the religious prejudice you detect is not there.

    Stan (#4), what David and Jeffrey said. Are you telling me you wouldn’t want “Holiness to the Lord” or All-seeing Eye imagery on more buildings today?

    kevinf (#8), amen on the praise of the Paris, Idaho tabernacle. I wonder if my wife will be dissapointed if I surprise her with a weekend getaway to Paris, and she doesn’t find out I mean Idaho until we’re on our way.

    J. (#10), I hadn’t thought that my connection to older Mormon architecture might be because of my ancestry’s direct involvement in the building process, but I think you make a great point.

    Comment by Christopher — December 3, 2007 @ 2:02 pm

  20. Matt B. (#14), I was wondering if anyone else drew the GaSB from the BoM movie and Conference Center parallel. For some reason, I’m not surprised that you were the one to do so. And you comment #17 is a valid and important point, I think.

    Ardis, your statement that “faulting the Conference Center for not being your favorite early 20th-century chapel is like faulting a stadium for not being as cozy as your living room” seems a little careless. A stadium and a living room (at least for me) serve very different purposes. Watching sports at a stadium is a very different sort of experience than watching them in the comfort of my home (or, as the current situation is, my undersized apartment). The purpose of both the Conference Center and older chapels is identical – namely, to worship God.

    I am intrigued by your assertion that “most people thought the Salt Lake Temple was garish when they first saw it.” Everything I’ve read says the exact opposite (though you are the last person I would challenge to find primary sources saying otherwise).

    I feel as though I’ve given the Conference Center time. I’ve attended GC there 8 or 9 times now, gone to Music and the Spoken Word, the Pioneer Day Celebration, MoTab Thursday evening rehearsals, and a number of tours. My brother, a manager of a construction company, has pointed out every cutting-edge structural aspect of the building, and during Elder Holland’s conference address in Oct. 2006, I had one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.

    Nevertheless the fact remains that there is something inherently different about worshipping in a building full of symbolism and detailed ornamentation and imagery. And that something resonates in a powerful way with me. I think the Nauvoo Temple proves that the Church is still capable of creating such buildings today.

    Comment by Christopher — December 3, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  21. I forgot to note when I originally wrote this up last night that Darren Grem?s post on ?Megachurches, MegaEconomics? over at Religion in American History also inspired this post, and pointed me to some of the resources I drew from.

    Comment by Christopher — December 3, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  22. I just realized I’m under attack and plan to retaliate with a full-fledged counter offensive…but I’m hungry and will break for lunch first.

    Comment by stan — December 3, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  23. I will have to check my copy of People of Paradox to make sure (cuz I found the quote in there), but I remember a quote by Pres. Hinkley saying that they build this way for two reasons: 1. It saves a lot of money. 2. It builds a sense of uniformity and familiarity; it makes the church feel the same wherever you go.

    Comment by Ben — December 3, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  24. Ben, thanks for brining PoP into the discussion. I found the quote you mention on page 246. However, it appears President Hinckley only cites economic reasons for the architecture.

    If they look much the same, it is because that is intended. … We save millions of dollars.”

    The other explanation you mention comes from a church news release that Givens cites immediately after quoting Hinckley. The quote, couched in between Givens’s own commentary, is:

    A church news release indicated yet another justification for aesthetic compromise: like the ubiquitous white shirts of missionaries, the standardized meetinghouse program “established a uniform look for the church.” While the release insisted that “an architect must take into account the culture [and] surroundings” of a particular area, the examples of variables and architectural discretion offered were not exactly cause for an orgy of aesthetic intervention: materials might vary locally, and the building might have “a natural of mechanical ventilation system.”

    Comment by Christopher — December 3, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  25. You da man, Chris. Thanks for doing the leg-work. I would have been able to give that, but I have loaned out my copy of PoP.

    Comment by Ben — December 3, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

  26. I’m all for the preservation of historic buildings but I find that modern imitations often come off as kitchy and out of touch. I’d be for heading more in the direction of the Seattle Public Library and other modern architecture, like in the images above, only maybe we could do a big stylized glass beehive so it’s more mormonish. As for the conference center, like Ardis, I’m sort of partial to it: the trees on top give is a sort of quasi-eco feel, and when you’re inside, it feels like you’re in a big space ship, like the one on Star Trek, only freakin’ huger!

    Comment by stan — December 3, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  27. The landscape does have a nice effect, but where are the beehives, seagulls, etc. that are uniquely Mormon symbols conveying meaning from our heritage?

    I wonder how meaningful those symbols are to members throughout the world with little or no contact with Deseret culture or even church history beyond the basics — namely most of the church. This is probably a more fundamental question about the issue of Mormon heritage and what that actually means to people with no personal connection to the American church.

    Citizen Grua

    Good one.

    Comment by Norbert — December 3, 2007 @ 4:28 pm

  28. when you?re inside, it feels like you?re in a big space ship, like the one on Star Trek, only freakin? huger!

    Thank you for succinctly summing up what is most wrong with Mormon architecture, Stan.

    Norbert, I think you raise an important point. It probably supports my thesis that the changing style of architecture reflects how Mormonism negotiates its identity as it expands from a Utah-based organization to a worldwide church. I’m not entirely convinced, though, that these symbols could not mean something to first and second-generation Mormons if they were used more frequently today. Certainly the beehive and all-seeing eye are not uniquely Utahn (or American) images.

    Comment by Christopher — December 3, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

  29. The beehive and the all-seeing eye are also Masonic motifs, and so not uniquely Mormon. Is there a truly Mormon motif that is not borrowed in any way from another tradition? Is that important or is the borrowing itself an important feature of Mormonism and thus necessarily part of our aesthetic tradition?

    Comment by Jeffrey Cannon — December 3, 2007 @ 5:05 pm

  30. The tabernacle took some shots from observers during the nineteenth century.

    This far-famed structure strikes one as a huge monstrosity, a tumour of bricks and mortar rising on the face of the earth. It is a perfectly plain egg-shaped building, studded with heavy entrance doors all around; there is not the slightest attempt at ornamentation of any kind; it is a mass of ugliness; the inside is vast, dreary, and strikes one with a chill, as though entering a vault.”

    “…grotesquely ugly; even the saints themselves irreverently compare it to a huge gofer or land turtle….There is no sign of religion in it. Its grey walls are bare and unsightly. Lions couchant and a beehive are the only adornments of this temple of fanaticism.”

    Comment by Justin — December 3, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  31. Those are some seriously negative reviews. But it needs be mentioned that they are old reviews from the point of view of non-members.

    The second one coming from an Irish Catholic publication that is highly critical of everything Mormon. If you know anything about Irish Catholicism and their world view in the late 1800s, you may find that the review is not that bad. Some of the most barbaric events in modern Catholic History have been narrated from within Ireland. These people didn’t have any mercy or anything good to say, even among themselves.

    Comment by Manuel — December 3, 2007 @ 5:45 pm

  32. By the way, I agree that the oval shaped tabernacle is not pleasing to the eye, but I am thinking it was probably not built to be pleasing. Rather, it seems that they were looking for an engineering strategy to achieve maximum acoustics for the congragation. Thus the oval shape.

    Comment by Manuel — December 3, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

  33. The second one coming from an Irish Catholic publication that is highly critical of everything Mormon.

    Not everything. “The Assembly House…is a fair, graceful building.”

    Comment by Justin — December 3, 2007 @ 6:02 pm

  34. Get familiar with it so that you can identify what?s beautiful and not get stuck on what?s new, like your grandmother when she turned up her nose at your favorite music. It will grow on you, if you let it.

    Comrade Ardis: I’m not sure if my grandmother will ever get used to my music. (Please ignore any gender connotations to comrade. It was the best comeback I could think of to your great “Citizen Grua.” If you’re wondering where the title thing comes from, you can blame your co-blogger.)

    You are right; I was exaggerating a bit in my comment. There are some nice features in the conference center, although the piled up shoebox effect is definitely not one of them, imo.

    Norbert: That is a fascinating point about the lack of appeal of these early Utah symbols to those of the international church. I suspect that this has as much to do with perceptions of contemporary Utah culture as it does with a lack of knowledge concerning the (Mormon) origins of these symbols.

    Comment by David Grua — December 3, 2007 @ 6:37 pm

  35. Justin, right after I wrote in my reply to Ardis that she is “the last person I would challenge to find primary sources saying otherwise,” I immediately thought of you as being the other individual I would hesitate to challenge. Thanks for finding those quotes.

    Comment by Christopher — December 3, 2007 @ 7:07 pm

  36. #19 – Christopher, I hope you realize I meant the last line of the critique (“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”) – not the last line of the post. I question whether the author has ever seen the old Tabernacle – which he might have been describing without the 21,000 seats. (Focus on the organ, lighting and sound recording equipment, etc.) The implication that Mormons can’t beat Protestants, so they might as well join them simply smacked of religious commentary that wasn’t part of the other slides.

    Comment by Ray — December 3, 2007 @ 9:38 pm

  37. Two things here are very close to me in my life. I mean, I’m often physcially close to them. My parents live across the street from the Conference Center, and for many years I lived just a few blocks from the main Seattle Library.

    A couple words of defence for the Conference Center. I always feel it wonderfully warm and comfortable. It isn’t intimate, it is, after all, made to seat many thousands. But it is subdued and refined. As to Mormonism, one should note the modern sunstones that are everywhere on the grounds, as well as the luminous sun symbol that sits right in the heart of the organ pipes.

    I think it also needs to been seen as a part of the Temple grounds, which include not only the temple and the tabernacle, but also the lovely Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

    Now – I can never pass up the chance to rant of about the Seattle Library. I lived three blocks up the hill from this monstrosity. Here’s just a sample of my feelings about the (then) new library – from my journal a year or so after it was built:

    Why spend 268 million on a building so obtusely meant to be seen if you can’t even see it? From what you can see, it’s a travesty of angles. But since it is impossible to view from any distance further than across the street, it is impossible to really judge it as a whole. Spend 268 million dollars on a building one can see when one enters the bay, or comes into the city on the freeway, or whatever … but not on something hidden entirely by other buildings. Whatever unlikely virtue there might be in seeing the library is lost because you can’t see it.

    Nor can you see from it. In spite of all the glass, it is impossible to see out from inside. Even stranger, in spite of all the glass, the light fails to be natural. Everything lends to a general feeling of blindness and confusion.

    And why spend 268 million on a library with no books? Here’s an idea, spend 168 million on a nice, serviceable and humbly beautiful building; maybe something in some way tied to the culture and history of the city, rather than the history of Planet Nepton. Then spend the saved 100 million updating your sad collection* (Olivia recently waited three weeks for a single copy of Mansfield Park. Jane-freakin-Austin: three weeks for the library to get it to you. I lost a copy of Mark Helprin’s Refiner’s Fire in 1992, they still haven’t replaced it.) I know the collection they do have is in there – but only becuse I braved a tight, over-lit intestine long enough to discover it. All these strange, angular but spacious, open spaces, and the books are hidden in a tight winding organ that has surely already proven fatal to claustrophobics.

    (You could also have spent part of that 100 million savings to pay your librarians, who have several times recently been forced to take unpaid vacations due to budget shortfalls.)

    Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

    I hate the thing. It is emblematic of everything that has changed for the worse in Seattle over the last 15 years. Give me some balance and some symmetry, and some human space. Take this shroom inspired neo-space-age nightmare and plop it down somewhere fitting, like Century City.


    Comment by Thomas Parkin — December 4, 2007 @ 1:03 am

  38. Those are some seriously negative reviews. But it needs be mentioned that they are old reviews from the point of view of non-members.

    The second one coming from an Irish Catholic publication that is highly critical of everything Mormon.

    True. In any event, I was being deliberately selective in my searches, looking for the worst reviews I could find. Some came from religious sources, others not.

    Justin, right after I wrote in my reply to Ardis that she is ?the last person I would challenge to find primary sources saying otherwise,? I immediately thought of you as being the other individual I would hesitate to challenge. Thanks for finding those quotes.

    No challenge here. I don’t know what most people thought of the temple at the time. In quick searches using google books, I found mostly positive reviews from non-Mormon observers. (The New York Times writer didn’t seem impressed.)

    Comment by Justin — December 4, 2007 @ 7:40 am

  39. “oval shaped tabernacle?” No! – prolate hemi-ellipsoid! And it is beautiful in its eligant simplicity, if you forgive the faux marble.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 4, 2007 @ 8:10 am

  40. ?a natural of mechanical ventilation system.? – What does this mean?

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 4, 2007 @ 8:13 am

  41. #40, it should read: “a natural or mechanical ventilation system” (emphasis added).

    Comment by Justin — December 4, 2007 @ 10:01 am

  42. [I]f one looks for any single detail of the schools he cannot find one. The building is barbaric in its simplicity and freedom from the traditions of any school of architecture; it is imposing and frowning because of the rude strength of its masses superimposed. It is a fitting temple for the rites of a religion which is as fierce and wild in some of its phases as the worship of the Druids or the Norsemen.

    I think, when it comes down to it, that I’d rather have this review than have an outsider say that we had just built a megachurch. Thanks Justin.

    Comment by David Grua — December 4, 2007 @ 10:21 am

  43. It’s been a long time since I read it, but Talmage’s The House of the Lord included a chapter describing the rest of Temple Square. He was a bit apolegetic about the Tabernacle, from what I remember, writing that it had no architectural distinction but was a very useful building. Not quite as bad as David Byrne’s Varicorp Building, but somewhat in that vein.

    I wonder a bit about what J. Stapley and kevinf about the relative ability of us moderns compared with our predecessors to afford artful construction. We are richer than they were, but labor costs more too. A lot of the charm of older buildings comes simply from them having been built out of smaller pieces that the equipment and manpower of the day could handle. Also, with all the labor that went into merely erecting older buildings, a small percentage going into ornamental carving and such would go far.

    As another example of modern costs, remember the hassle over reopening the quarry for the stone that clads the Conference Center. Under restrictions like that, could the material for the Salt Lake Temple have been extracted?

    Comment by John Mansfield — December 4, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

  44. To be fair, I was able to find this image of beehives on the windows of the Conference Center, which I rather like.

    Comment by Christopher — December 4, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  45. After looking at those images, I have to agree. I think Ardis was right to accuse me of not looking closely enough at the symbols.

    Comment by David Grua — December 4, 2007 @ 3:39 pm

  46. I agree that the physical aesthetic of the Conference Center is off (mismatched with the everyday lives and worship of LDSs), but I think the underlying spiritual aesthetic is significant. When I was at the Christmas devotional, I felt like I was part of the gathering of Israel. I have the same feeling in sacrament meeting sometimes in a much smaller chapel, and I still firmly believe in building beautiful places of worship. But the sheer size of the Conference Center gives me a sense for the vast scope of the restoration. Call me idealistic or a modern millennialist or both, but I am sure the pioneers marvel at the actual physical gathering that happens there in a location that was their second-hand Zion. The Conference Center is a reminder that we are still building Zion, even if it is imperfect. But it is grand.

    Comment by Liz — December 5, 2007 @ 2:19 am

  47. Gasp! Like a megachurch? The outrage!
    I wish the LDS church would move more in that direction. Enough with the 17th Century hymns at every single meeting or sitting motionless in the pews. Is that how the Saints of the OT, NT, Book of Mormon, or even the early days of the Restoration worshipped? A dare say the early Saints could be accused of being Pentecostal.

    Comment by Kristoffer — December 9, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  48. […] recent posts “On Methodist Weddings, Holy Envy, and Mormon Self-Identity” and “A Mormon Megachurch? Or where is Truman O. Angell when you need him?” have opened the discussion on the Juvenile Instructor concerning Mormon architecture. The Mormon […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From the Center to the Periphery: The Place of Sacrament Altars in Mormon Worship Space — December 12, 2007 @ 4:13 pm

  49. Yay. I must agree with Christopher here. I’ve ALWAYS been irked at modern architecture in general. I hear ‘form follows function’ so often, but it really depends on what this function is. Supermarkets are one thing; churches are another. Their function is worship. As well as social gatherings and stuff, but just because there is a gym right next door doesn’t mean the chapel needs be austere. Perfect example: early designs for the Kiev, Ukraine Temple… the first temple in that area, and it is hardly a beauty. Granted, most of the beauty is in the interior architecture, but the exterior is what will represent the Church to the people of that part of Europe — I’d prefer to be represented by something less sqaure, squat, boxy, and austere. And though it isn’t me calling the shots (though I’d like to — I’m a youngster aspiring to become an architect in the employ of the Church), I’d be willing to spend some more money and wait an extra year or two or five for it.

    Comment by Gummi Bear — December 18, 2007 @ 2:26 am

  50. #49 – “I?d be willing to spend some more money and wait an extra year or two or five for it.” Try telling that to the members who have been hoping and praying for a temple for decades. “Uh, excuse me, but we are going to wait a few years for you to be able to enjoy the blessings of the temple ’cause, well, you know, we want the exterior to be prettier. Sorry, all you old folks who’ve waited the longest and prayed the hardest and suffered the most persecution if you die in the next few years. We’ll do your work for you when you’re dead.”

    I’m sure they’ll understand.

    Comment by Ray — December 18, 2007 @ 5:17 pm

  51. Kristoffer, we’re talking architecture here, not charismata and hymnody. Keep comments relevant to the thread, please.

    Gummi Bear & Ray, I sympathize with GB’s thoughts in general. Ray does raise a good point, though. However, I don’t think that building more aesthetically pleasing temples and church, however, would take an additional year or two. It would just require more money, which I assume is the primary concern.

    Comment by Christopher — December 18, 2007 @ 5:34 pm


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