This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Ogden and Provo LDS temples are unlike any other Mormon temple where the architectural systems of space, structure and program are subordinated by the overall symbolic form.
Although the architecture of each reflects its time, both are continuously impugned by architectural critics and church members alike for their lack of religious aesthetic worthy of Mormonism's most important building type.
Each temple was designed and conceived of as a machine with a singular functional motive: to relentlessly churn out ordinance work for the living and dead. In that regard, each has been highly successful and, despite the paucity of architectural acceptance, each has assumed an iconic presence, defined a sense of place and housed sacred space.
In November 2009, church architect Emil Fetzer, who designed the Ogden and Provo temples, died. In February the church announced plans to scrap the iconic Ogden exterior for one resembling the recently completed Draper temple. In other words, the iconic Ogden temple will no longer be iconic, but will become a bland and monotonous member of a new uniform group, while its efficient interior remains largely intact. The changes affect the adjacent Ogden tabernacle which will lose its spire in submission to the more hierarchically important building type and is the proper move.
Architectural preservationists should be up in arms about the planned changes. The Ogden Temple, along with its counterpart, represent a paradigmatic shift in the way Mormons conceived and interpreted the temple, transitioning from a sacred abode to a sacred machine. As the church's 14th and 15th operating temples, they were designed first for streamlined ordinance work, and second as places of refuge and communion for faithful adherents. The update to the Ogden facade is a rejection of the history and context associated with their time.
Paul Anderson, a Mormon temple scholar, opined that the Ogden Temple's look was controversial and added: "Some of the building materials were associated with commercial, not sacred, architecture, and the location on a main city street, rather than elevated above it, added to that impression." For one as conversant as Anderson, it should be obvious the precedent for siting the temple in an urban setting gained acceptance at Kirtland, Nauvoo and Salt Lake City, which remains Mormonism's primary architectural symbol.
When they were built in 1972, the neo-modern Provo and Ogden temples exhibited a vague reminiscence to the post-war temple typology but embraced a modern ornamental program. Formally, both temples consisted of a rectangular massing articulated with alternating attenuated windows and cast spandrels all visually detached from a large orthogonal base via a narrow band of recessed windows. A tall central spire contrasted with the main form like a skewer through a Reuben. When constructed, these Utah temples exhibited formal characteristics anathema to the traditional Utah temple typology. The new forms boasted an urgency to the efficient ordinance work within.
The Ogden and Provo temples evoke a space-age symbolism, a streamlined Saturn V rocket propelling the Apollo module beyond the terrestrial frontiers and into the great void of space. Although unintended, the spires resemble the Saturn V breaking away from its earthly tether atop of pillar of fire with the main massing resembling the billowing exhaust; an axis-mundi in the most literal sense.
The intended symbol, a Hebraic pillar of fire atop the cloud God employed to stifle the Egyptian army as Israel made her miraculous escape was similar to the modern Saturn V imagery. The church, unfortunately, attempted to refine and standardize each of the outstanding temples in recent years by white-washing the golden spires and perching a gilded Angel Moroni at the top.
One hopes that the LDS First Presidency will moderate their architectural critique when they consider the outdatedness of the Salt Lake, Manti, Logan, St. George and Provo temples.
is an architectural critic and preservationist. Kirk Huffaker is executive director, Utah Heritage Foundation.