My Standard Plan Tabernacle (1986)

When I was a teenager in the early 1980s, I was a member of a choir that toured the churches of many other Christian denominations — Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Catholics, and more Lutherans (I lived in Minnesota). This culminated in touring the cathedrals of Germany and Austria. What glorious and uplifting edifices these believers had built for God!

Coming home to our ward’s meetinghouse with its painted cinderblock chapel and orange industrial-grade carpeting (that clashed with the slightly-different-shade-of-orange pew cushions) left me unimpressed. My mother always reminded me that the LDS Church built temples as houses of the Lord that were monumental (an argument that was already losing potency as smaller, less unique, less impressive temples had begun to dot the earth) and that meetinghouses and stake centers were supposed to be utilitarian.

That argument didn’t satisfy me. Before there were stake centers, had there not been tabernacles? Why didn’t the church build tabernacles any more? More than once I worked on the question, sketching out ideas on paper during Sacrament Meeting. Looking back through my notes, this is one of the results of my 16-year-old doodlings:

John Hamer's teenage tabernacle design
My Standard Plan Tabernacle (1986)

This plan attempts to revive a particular Mormon form, the oval Salt Lake tabernacle, to make distinctive Mormon churches. The chapel is in the center, under the highest part of the exterior dome or bowl-shapped roof. Looking at it now, I note that I put a lot of emphasis on conversation spaces. The huge foyer has three or four conversation zones with couches, chairs, and tables, and there are “gathering areas” in front of both the stake offices and also the Relief Society room. This emphasis was in keeping with my feeling that visiting and fellowship were some of the most worthwhile aspects of church.

Details like the door from the deacon’s classroom (YM-1) to the sacrament preparation area of the chapel show my concerns as a 16-year-old boy. The open, conceptual “primary area,” no doubt a nightmare for adults trying to contain energetic children, likewise shows the concerns I lacked. Finally, the plan is altogether in too much love with removable partition walls for my taste today. These partitions are never lovely, whether you’re in an LDS Chapel or the most expensive conference center at the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas.

I was visiting with Paul Anderson last week and was able to get his take on this sketch. Paul is one of the curators of the BYU Art Museum and is one of the experts on LDS Church architectural history. He’s clearly sympathetic to making meeting houses that are attractive and distinctively Mormon. (He even showed me his own master’s project from the 1970s, in which he designed a monumental LDS Stake Center in the sleek international style then in vogue at his art school.) Paul thought the sketch was clever. As someone truly versed in LDS architecture, he pointed out some flaws, including the fact that the Stake offices section would have to have its own door to the outside and the reality that building round is both incredibly hard and wildly expensive.

So, what do you folks think of these concerns? Is there any point in making beautiful, edifying, tabernacles or should utility (i.e., cost) always trump art in LDS meetinghouse architecture? Also, is there value in emphasizing distinctively Mormon architectural and artistic forms or should LDS churches today be built with an eye to blend in with other Christian churches?

Comments

  1. Cynthia L. says:

    I think it’s lovely!! I think it’s a great idea to have the primary open onto the cultural hall. Is that the baptismal font in the upper right? If so then the only thing I would change is to make that space more special and sacred feeling, i.e. not having the guests sit in the gym.

    I think it’s fantastic how you’ve emphasized the conversation spaces.

  2. John Hamer says:

    Thanks, Cynthia. I totally agree about the baptismal font and gym. Obviously at 16 I was thinking more of how both the font and the gym need changing rooms than I had been about making the baptism experience special. I’d do it differently now.

    That reminds me that I was just at the Community of Christ meeting house in Salt Lake City which had the baptismal font integrated into the chapel itself in a very creative way — it was surprisingly unobtrusive, considering it was right there.

  3. Cynthia L. says:

    I was wondering why only one ‘W’ room next to the font, but two ‘M’ rooms. You didn’t think that the ladies needed a changing room for the gym and baptistry?

    Interesting about putting the font in the chapel.

  4. I’ve heard that in some of the chapels in Latin America, the baptismal font is in the chapel, underneath the stand. When it is time for a baptism, they just lift up the trap door covering, and the guests who have come to observe can remain where they are in the chapel.

  5. Martin Willey says:

    The oval chapel would be very cool.

  6. Yes, John Hamer, there is, or should be, value in emphasizing distinctively Mormon art and architecture. I cringe to think that some archealogist 1,000 years from now may uncover our meetinghouse in an archealogical dig. What would they think of the meetinghouse? Probably that the central placement of the cultural hall implied some sort of worship of basketball. Therefore, I like how you drew the foyer area leading straight to the chapel, and not to the ever-present basketball court.

    By the way, you penned this when you were sixteen??! (nodding head incredulously) I wish I had been thinking about such things when I was sixteen. Sheese.

  7. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think it’s a mandala.

    Groovy.

    ~

  8. I love it. And yes, I do think having beauty around helps us- it helps our minds and hearts ponder wonders and turns our eye towards God. But then, I’m an artist, so what do I know. ;)

    Our chapels are just plain ugly, in so many instances. Especially so when juxtaposed over the fine, old chapels of Europe and even the East coast. Consider that even the early Saints made the Assembly Hall in Salt Lake a beautiful building. Perhaps we could consider that in our designs for the future.

  9. Researcher says:

    Lovely drawing. Interesting ideas.

    One question: am I missing the mother’s lounge somewhere?

    (It would be a natural oversight for a 16-year-old boy.)

  10. The next chapel over from our current one is one of those “smaller footprint” chapels. They had to go in after the fact and add onto the rear of the building to make more classrooms and offices. That was good thinking. This is and was an area of growth when they built it.

  11. Carlos U. says:

    I love our chapels. Seriously. First time I waked into one, (as an investigator) I was utterly amazed at the cleanness, simplicity, and practicality of it. I thought the dividers were the best, most inspired thing since sliced bread. Believe it or not, the design of that chapel (in Tibas, San Jose, Costa Rica) was one of the first indications I saw of revelation in this church. After having been to many, many other churches, (yes, including cathedrals in Europe) the chapels stand to me as symbols of what this church is like: Practical, clean, simple, inspired. No hype, all substance.

  12. John Hamer says:

    Re: #6, Was I sixteen? My partner Mike took one look and said, “Where’s the furnace?” Then he added, “I’m detecting a noticeable lack of emergency exit options.” So, yes, there are a number of things missing. In adulthood, I have subsequently designed the interiors of two office buildings that have been built and I did remember to leave room for the furnace and to include emergency exits.

    For a nursing mother’s lounge (#9), our LDS meeting house just used one of the classrooms (such as YW-3), so I probably hadn’t thought of a dedicated room. Likewise, the nursery was just like any other classroom and would probably have been P-1 here.

    If you have an ornate chapel, I’m kind of taken with the idea of incorporating the font into it. The Cutlerite Church of Jesus Christ in Independence, Missouri, has a baptismal font in the chapel that is normally covered by trap door in the way Mark IV describes (#4).

  13. I find this quite interesting. When I was a kid I did a lot of sketches like this, but never thought about doing one for a meetinghouse. I work in an Architectural firm now as an intern and have been lucky enough to do 3 meetinghouses for the LDS church. The church has standard plans to use, but evenso, not every thing turns out well.

    On my first one the fire alarm contractor decided to place his strobe light right in the center of an art wall. Nobody noticed until it was all finished and would have cost a lot of money to move, and it was decided not to move it. I still cringe when I walk into that building and see that stupid strobe light flanked by 2 small pictures, where one large picture of Christ should be.

    At the end of construction for all 3 buildings, I had to endure a very long and meticulous critique of the building by the church Architects and Engineers out of SLC. It was rough going as they picked apart the buildings, but I did learn a lot during the audit about what the intent of the design should be. I didn’t agree with all of the criticism and defended some of my decisions rigourosly (mainly having to do with color selection), but in the end the Architect said he agreed my choice was valid, but since it didn’t follow the criteria he docked my score anyway. Luckily the final score was still acceptable, they shook my hand complimenting me on the nice looking building and left.

    One last comment about building meetinghouses. Its absolutely wonderful to show up on the jobsite, enter the trailer with the contractors and church representative and begin the jobsite meeting with a prayer. Its not an experience you’d find on any other type of jobsite I’d bet, and it really added to the spirit of cooperation among the parties involved.

  14. merrybits says:

    Completely awesome design! I love that your 16-year-old self put the kitchen right across from RS. I didn’t see a nursery – it would need to go around there too. I suggest you submit your plans to Salt Lake!

  15. When my dad was baptized in south Florida many years ago, the font also had a trap door underneath the stand. I wish I could have seen it.

    I like your plan. There are all sorts of exiting problems and technical issues, but as a concept I like the centrality of the chapel and how the main entrance leads you to it. I’ve always liked buildings that speak to you and tell you where to go through their form, even when you are unfamiliar with the space.

    The oval concept you have reminds me of the Community of Christ Temple (RLDS) which was beautifully designed around the concept of a conch shell. After entering, you circle around until you reach the center, which is a gorgeous space with a high ceiling center and light filtering in.

    We definitely need beauty, but beauty doesn’t necessarily equal ornament, decoration, or money. Beauty equals a beautiful space to worship in. So even a low-cost utility building, if designed well can be beautiful.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    I especially love how you’ve still got a gym within that oval design. 16-year old boy, indeed!

    The issues you raise really came out well in Paul Anderson’s presidential address at the last MHA in Sacramento, with lots of pictures of Church buildings in California, and the impulse to create more lavish designs than were allowed elsewhere.

    I love beautiful old Mormon buildings. But I’m also sympathetic to the concerns the Church has for practicality and expense in an international church.

  17. Thomas Parkin says:

    Carlos,

    I agree. I love our chapels, too.
    I think they are wonderfully simple and understated.

    ~

  18. SingleSpeed says:

    I wish our chapels could be spruced up a little on the outside. Our buildings are very utilitarian on the inside. it’s nice in some ways, but very underwhelming. I admit that I am jealous when I drive around my city and see all of the beautiful churches. I just sigh when I see ours. At least we know that nobody is joining our church because the like the look of our chapels….

  19. I used to attend a ward that met in SE DC and the building had been a former Baptist Church. Although the building was an L shape, the foyer fed directly into the chapel like yours. The chapel was a wedge, with sloping like stadium seating (but not steep). The baptismal font was front and center on the pulpit. They had changing rooms where we might have a closet for choir music and a prep area for the Sacrament. These rooms opened onto a font–the congregation could see the upper bodies of those in the font and there was a mirror over their heads so we could see the immersion. It was a very nice setting for a baptism! (so much nicer than watching from the hallway).

  20. I’m perfectly fine with the utility of the typical LDS chapel — they’re clean and functional. But I have to admit that I love my current chapel, built in the early 1900s with some unusual woodwork and gold tiles, a rounded wall behind the podium, and a balcony reached by two steep staircases. It has been remodeled enough to give us modern bathrooms and good functionality (if odd angles and narrow halls), while still retaining many nice old touches, including creaky floors.

    I suppose that if cost were no object I would vote for more variety in plan and more artistic touches — but I haven’t seen a whole lotta modern architecture, especially in churches, that I think would be better than our clean, spare, functional standard chapels.

    Almost all of them could use better landscaping, though.

  21. When we think about European churches, we generally think about churches built 100+ years ago. The Lutheran churches around us, built in the 1960s or more recently, actually look a lot like LDS meeting halls … bigger and less concerned about squeezing maximum utility out of minimum land, but fairly spare and undecorated. And the Lutheran church where I play basketball has a court with a stage at one end.

  22. While I appreciate the functionality and practicality of our ward and stake buildings, one thing I miss in our recently-built chapels is natural light. Christopher Alexander argues in his landmark work, A Pattern Language: “Modern buildings are often shaped with no concern for natural light – they depend almost entirely on artificial light. But buildings which displace natural light as the major source of illumination are not fit places to spend the day.”

    Within the current ward and stake building designs it would be fairly straightforward to add two longitudinal clerestory windows at ceiling height, maybe even with some faux stained glass. This would incorporate another of Alexander’s principles: “When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty.”

    I suspect that if people felt more comfortable and at ease in our chapels, they would be more susceptible to the Spirit.

  23. SingleSpeed says:

    It seems like years ago, the construction of the chapel was part of the worshipping process. Members of the church wanted to honor God by providing the best structure they could afford (similar to early LDS temples). God *deserved* the best structure we could provide. But that doesn’t seem to be part of our mindset these days, which is unfortunate, I think – not because God wants expensive or fancy buildings – He probably doesn’t care what the buildings look like. But it is a way that we could honor and praise Him that we don’t take advantage of.

    There are reasonable counter-arguments, I suppose. God would probably rather be praised by us donating the saved money to better causes than by constructing better chapels.

    but still, it comes down to the ability of fantastic architecture to inspire. I feel close to God when I observe fantastic churches. The building itself is a physical manifestation of God and a symbol of our willingness to sacrifice for Him. LDS chapels don’t inspire me, nor do they represent any sort of significant financial sacrifice.

  24. The biggest problem that I see in your drawing is the lack of expansion options for when the chapel fills up. Modern chapels have the cultural hall (gym) connected to the chapel so that there can be expansion.

    It’s pretty though and could be made even more functional with some rearranging.

  25. #22 – Years ago, members didn’t sacrifice so much because they wanted to do it that way; we sacrificed because the Church couldn’t afford to build the meetinghouses – so we HAD to do it that way. If it still was that way, inner city and rural congregations (especially branches) might go years without a meetinghouse, while suburban members would have no problem having beautiful, spacious buildings. (Word chosen intentionally.)

    Finally, the Church is building meetinghouses at a fast enough rate that they have to be standardized. The Church can’t face the time drain it would be to consider plans for every meetinghouse it builds, and it can’t allow the bickering that would occur if some congregations felt like their buildings somehow were inferior to others’ buildings. That would be administrative Hell. The buildings also have to be functional and expandable – as well as maintainable. They simply have to use a few basic templates.

  26. John–what fascinates me is that you still have this picture. It does show some proclivity for architecture–or at least an appreciation of it. It also shows a sense of practicality. I now know what you look like (love the hair), but I don’t know much more than that. What does this picture say about you? Did you become an architect? Do you visit cathedrals etc. and study them? Are you practical? I don’t know if you’re married, but if you are, do you drive your wife crazy with boxes and boxes of pictures you drew during your teens? (Now why would I think of that?) I’m genuinely curious.

  27. I wonder, too, about the equalizing part of our buildings. It is nice to enter a strange church on Sunday and know that they will have basically the same format, the same lesson, the same protocol.

    And so as much as I think my building is UGLY (and impractical! We have no connecting hallway between one side of the chapel to the other, so you have to walk through the chapel or the gym), it is sort of nice to walk into an LDS church building and pretty much know where everything is.

  28. I miss the older plan chapels. Chapel in the front with wings on either side. Foyers that didn’t double as hallways. The best thing is that they had lovely natural light in the chapel.

    Our chapels should also have more beautiful details (like the floor to ceiling windows that looked out on a garden courtyard in the relief society room in my childhood chapel). Or functional details – like a scout room with storage for each troop, a place to store the pinewood derby track, etc. I miss the lovely stages that the stake centers all had.

    The Beaverton Oregon Stake Center had a lovely feature – a basement underneath the cultural hall. You could have a large ward dinner downstairs and then go upstairs for the dance.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    There was a great article in Dialogue a long time ago by a former bishop who told the tale of his experience in getting a church built. I want to say this was in Massachusetts, but I’m not sure. If anyone is curious about the real world bureaucracy involved, that’s the article to read. (Does anyone else recall the one I’m thinking of?)

  30. SLO beat me to it–the biggest thing missing from modern LDS church architecture is natural light. Didn’t anybody in the design department ever read that scripture about those who love darkness more than light?

    We have a building in our stake, not standard plan, but with a chapel in the center and offices and classrooms along both sides. Since the roof on the chapel was 10 feet or more higher than the roof on the classrooms/offices, I suggested to the stake president (himself an architect) that we have clerestory windows in those gaps. And we have. It’s wonderful.

    But when someone from the building department saw them, the first thing out of his mouth was “How will you ever clean them?”

    No vision. People perish.

  31. Perhaps it’s Dennis Lythgoe’s article “Battling the Bureaucracy.”

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    That’s the one, Justin. I tried to find it using google, Dialogue index, etc., with no luck; trust Justin to easily put his fingers on it.

  33. Researcher says:

    Wow. That article makes me grateful that buildings are not funded by local members anymore.

    In our (way east of the Mississippi River) ward, most of us are driving 30-40 minutes to church every week. The church has acquired a lovely property on a highway that follows an old Indian trail. Now we’re waiting for the building to start one of these years.

    As far as local funding goes, many of our ward members are only living in this area for 3-5 years and would have very mixed feelings in paying for a building that they might use for a few months before they move on. Many members are living on the edge and would be able to fund the building only with great sacrifice. Not that great sacrifices should not be made, but I am a big fan of the current building funding system.

    And about stock church building plans: When the church presented the township supervisors with our building plans and artists’ rendition, one of the supervisors said that he hoped that the mountain came with the church building.

  34. John Hamer says:

    Steve (#13): It’s cool to hear from someone who’s done architectural design for the church. Your strobe light story reminds me an experience I had designing my company’s office building. In the one wing I had the offices centered around a large, central conference room. After construction, when I entered the finished conference room and looked around I realized that it was missing something. They builders hadn’t installed a single power outlet in this massive room! I had assumed they would put in one outlet per ever X feet of wall, but I quickly learned that the rule for construction is: assume nothing!

    Carlos (#11) and Thomas (#17): I’m very glad they’re loved. I agree that conveying the qualities of cleanliness, simplicity, and practicality has a real truth-in-advertising benefit.

    But while I too have sympathy for the values of equality (rich and poor wards mostly getting the same thing throughout the world) and cost, I remain somewhat more sympathetic with those who would emphasize the competing values of originality, individuality, and beauty.

    I agree with Green Mormon Architect (#15) that beauty can often be accomplished without wasting money. (BTW, GMA, I absolutely love the Independence Missouri Temple.) Norbert (#21) reminds us that there’s a big difference between a historic cathedral and a modern church. True! And if you drive around the US countryside you’ll see lots of new churches that are essentially pole-barns. I find these to be significantly less inspiring than 21st century LDS meetinghouses, although they are probably even more cost effective to produce. However, there are many, many well-designed, clean and contemporary churches. You can find half a dozen in the architectural wonderland that is Columbus Indiana: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbus,_Indiana

    I agree with SLO Sapo (#22) and Jay S (#28) that natural light is a catalyst for a spiritual tone and it’s clear that my standard-plan tabernacle 1986 would utter lack natural light.

  35. John Hamer says:

    Steve (#13): It’s cool to hear from someone who’s done architectural design for the church. Your strobe light story reminds of me an experience I had designing my company’s office building. In the one wing I had the offices centered around a large, central conference room. After construction, when I entered the finished conference room and looked around I realized that it was missing something: the builders hadn’t installed a single power outlet in this massive room! I had assumed they would put in one outlet per ever X feet of wall, but I quickly learned that the rule for construction is: assume nothing!

    Carlos (#11) and Thomas (#17): I’m very glad they’re loved. I agree that conveying the qualities of cleanliness, simplicity, and practicality has a real truth-in-advertising benefit.

    But while I too have sympathy for the values of equality (rich and poor wards mostly getting the same thing throughout the world) and cost, I remain somewhat more sympathetic with those who would emphasize the competing values of originality, individuality, and beauty.

    I agree with Green Mormon Architect (#15) that beauty can often be accomplished without wasting money. (BTW, GMA, I absolutely love the Independence Missouri Temple.) Norbert (#21) reminds us that there’s a big difference between a historic cathedral and a modern church. True! And if you drive around the US countryside you’ll see lots of new churches that are essentially pole-barns. I find these to be significantly less inspiring than 21st century LDS meetinghouses, although they are probably even more cost effective to produce. However, there are many, many well-designed, clean and contemporary churches. For example, you can find half a dozen in the architectural wonderland that is Columbus, Indiana.

    I agree with SLO Sapo (#22) and Jay S (#28) and Mark B (#30) that natural light is a catalyst for a spiritual tone and it’s clear that my standard-plan tabernacle 1986 would utter lack natural light.

  36. John Hamer says:

    Kevin (#16): I loved Paul Anderson’s MHA presidential address last May. It’s one of the things that made me remember and look for this old sketch. One of the things that Paul pointed out was that attractive, original, more monumental buildings built by the LDS Church in California had the additional purposes of legitimizing Mormonism (“we’re a modern church; we’re not just hicks from the styx”) and also of welcoming investigators (“wow! that’s an impressive building, what church is that?”). Although somewhat abstract, those goals also had a practical element.

    On the hazards of stock planning that Researcher mentions (#33), apparently the meeting house I attended growing up in Minneapolis had originally been built according to Utah specs. The first winter all of the pipes that had been built in the ceilings rather than a basement froze and burst, causing a bunch of serious damage. At least that was the folklore as I learned it.

  37. StillConfused says:

    Why do we have gyms in our churches? I think it looks so ghetto.

  38. John Hamer says:

    Margaret (#26): One of the core values of my Mormon childhood that I’ve retained is creation: Make artifacts! Going along with this value is its corollary: Save artifacts! Thanks initially to my mom and then continuing myself in her teaching, I have thousands of sketches and drawings preserved, dating from when I first picked up a crayon at 6 months old to the present day.

    I am married, yes. My partner Mike puts up with my many files, portfolios, and books. But we are now going through the task of “down-sizing” as we prepare to move from a free-standing house close to downtown Ann Arbor to an urban condominium in downtown Toronto. This process involves keeping treasures and getting rid of junk. (Sometimes it’s a fine dividing line.)

    After fireman (circa age 6), the first profession I embraced as a child was architect (circa age 10). I actually got interested in real estate development and city planning as early as age 8 when my parents moved to a new exurban subdivision outside Cincinnati and simultaneously bought another exurban home in Pasco County, Florida. We went to the sales offices and I picked up all the model home floorplans. I quickly began to make my own models and floorplans and also to draw out my own pictures of subdivisions. In the construction sites around my neighborhood, my sister and I would build large subdivisions with Flintstones-inspired homes out of the muddy Ohio clay. I would also build cities using our ever-increasing collection of Legos. (The Legos recently moved from my basement to my brother’s as part of our downsizing process.)

    I did not end up going into architecture or city planning. Instead I went into publishing, illustration, and mapping. As I alluded to in a few of the responses, I still make amateur sketches of buildings and, in a couple of cases, companies that I worked for have actually built these. However, I am not formally trained as an architect by any stretch.

    Mike and I do visit cathedrals and study them and we also visit modern churches, college campuses, and other noteworthy buildings and monuments all the time. (For example, I’ve probably been to about 15 state capitol buildings in the past year.) So, yes, it’s still an active interest.

  39. Left Field says:

    I like a lot of the ideas you have in this plan. What are the two small rooms labeled “CC” near the bottom. I thought maybe coat closet, but they don’t look very accessible.

    Coincidentally, I just spent the last two days working on plans for two new teaching labs at my school, so I have some renewed appreciation for the various issues that have to be considered when designing building spaces. Which way should the doors open? Can we get plumbing to this sink? Will students be able to see the board? Is there enough storage? Are we leaving any creative ways for students to cheat? A lot of things end up being a compromise between incompatible ideals.

    I’m sure the recent lack of natural light in chapels is due to the need to darken the room for satellite broadcasts. Chapels often used to have long narrow windows in the sides of the recessed area behind the pulpit. I’ve seen several old chapels where those windows have been bricked in so as not to interfere with television projection.

  40. John Hamer says:

    LF (#38): I think it may be “CL” for “closet” or storage. As you point out, they aren’t very accessible… (I wish I’d annotated the diagram. After 22 years, your guess is as good as mine on some of the interpretation.)

    As you say, in real life there are lots and lots of details and compromises. When I was doing the kitchen in one of our office buildings I learned a lot about making things ADA accessible: the microwave and the dishwasher had to be at a certain level in order to be operated by persons in wheelchairs. That’s something I wouldn’t have thought about w/o the guidelines since at that time we didn’t have any employees who used wheelchairs.

  41. “I’m sure the recent lack of natural light in chapels is due to the need to darken the room for satellite broadcasts. Chapels often used to have long narrow windows in the sides of the recessed area behind the pulpit. I’ve seen several old chapels where those windows have been bricked in so as not to interfere with television projection.”

    Sheesh! What does that say about priorities? I think that our buildings could be made much more beautiful in some really simple ways, like natural light, more judicious use of natural materials, rather than burlap or whatever that stuff is on the walls, etc. I visited churches all over Denmark a few years ago, and was repeatedly amazed by how very simple they are, and yet very beautiful and peaceful. (No basketball courts however.)

  42. John, #35:

    We also have a story in my stake about stock building plan problems. When our Southern California stake center was built the church apparently had a rule about no air conditioning if a building was within a certain distance from the ocean. Our building was within that distance but it is also in the interior valley area of S. Cal. where it can get hot.

    Apostle Kimball’s dedication visit coincided with a heatwave with temperatures above 100. After sitting through numerous meetings in the unairconditioned chapel he went back to SLC and told the building dept to put air conditioning in.

  43. I’m sure the recent lack of natural light in chapels is due to the need to darken the room for satellite broadcasts. Chapels often used to have long narrow windows in the sides of the recessed area behind the pulpit. I’ve seen several old chapels where those windows have been bricked in so as not to interfere with television projection.

    My ward back in Georgia had long east facing floor to ceiling windows behind the stand that let in beautiful natural light. Everyone loved it because during Sacrament meeting tons of natural light would stream in through the windows. Our meetinghouse was pretty small but it was beautiful; our Bishop, a stonemason, had designed it so it had the most beautiful stonework you’ve ever seen. It was prettier than our temple. (Atl. temple).

  44. Benjamin O says:

    Well Julie (#43), the Atlanta Temple just isn’t very inspiring in my book, so I’d say it isn’t hard to have a chapel nicer than that.

    I think that some of the chapels I’ve been in are absolutely amazing. Others, not so much.

    Bah.

    Natural light is essential.

    You know, it would make sense to modify the circular design into a hexagon and go from there. The hex could easily be said to represent a beehive.

  45. Ooh! I would love to meet in the chapel under a big high dome.

    btw, our newly built (maybe 4 years old now?) meeting house in Japan had (what I thought) was a unique chapel design. The baptismal font was behind an accordion door in the back of the chapel, so we would open it up and turn around when someone was baptized. But ALSO, we had an accordion door that sectioned off the front stand and podium and when it was closed, our chapel was, voila, the cultural hall! There were no fixed pews, only folding chairs, and we would hold all of our social functions and parties in the chapel… as long as that accordion door was closed, that is!

  46. Ann Arbor Huron High School has a lot of curves and was my school for a while. If the design works well, an unusual building can make attending school or church at least a little bit more fun than it would otherwise be.

  47. John Hamer says:

    Hey Steve (#46): I like that high school. Round buildings appeal to me. Whenever I go past Huron High, it always reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin County Civic Center in California. I couldn’t find anything about the high school’s architect, except that it was designed round because the previous Ann Arbor high school (Pioneer) had be criticized for looking like a factory. Do you know anything more?

  48. One thing about curved passageways is that they’re disorienting, but this could be used to advantage in John’s plan. A curved hallway leading to the chapel would literally and figuratively dissociate the worshiper from the secular outside world.

  49. Not in Utah says:

    I don’t see any bathrooms in your plans.

    Our stake center has the chapel and gym (Cultural Hall) in the center and “track around it. The ONLY bathrooms, except for the stall in the Stk offices suite, is totally opposite the primary room and nursery. It’s a really challenge for the parents and primary workers getting kids there. We hope we get to have some input (What ask members what they would like in a new building the church is paying for? How presumptive of us to want to have some input on a “gift.”) Not to worry, we have to cram 4 wards into this building before they build another one and we are only the verge of adding the 3rd ward to the building. We did hear they aren’t building this style building any longer.

  50. John Hamer says:

    NotInUtah (#49): The bathrooms in the above plan are labelled M or W. There are 6 bathrooms + 1 interior room in the Mens’ room adjacent to the baptismal font. Sorry to hear about your own church’s bathroom situation.

  51. Researcher says:

    I think if it’s labeled M or W it’s a bathroom.

    List of wants in church buildings:

    Forget natural light. I would like a building without a hallway that goes clear around the building like a track. That is a nightmare for parents with small children. There needs to be a dead end, like in the plan above.

    More bathrooms and a nice mother’s nursing lounge.

  52. Another thought– a real pipe organ, with someone in each ward who’s able to play it. I’ve been in a few wards that had one, but they’re getting very rare.

  53. I think it would be great to have stained glass windows in our chapels. I do however, remember as a child the bishop calling our family into his office each year and telling us that our family was expected to donate such-and-such amount of money to the building fund, in addition to our regular tithes and offerings. We weren’t well to do and had a lot of health expenses. I can only imagine what the amount would have been if the chapel plans were more than a brick box.

    The building I now attend was built by the members in the early 1970s. Many of the members are still here and can point out what they helped with.

    The small temples may not be breathtaking, but the insides really are lovely. Not having to travel thousands of miles to the nearest temple more than makes up for the size. I believe that blessing the people of the world is more important than stained glass windows.

  54. David Stout says:

    I attended a Mormon chapel a couple of months ago with a Mormon friend. I very much enjoyed the people and the singing but I have to say the building was painfully functional. Given the color and pageantry of the LDS story and its cosmology, surely something a bit more architecturally interesting could be deemed appropriate, could it not? At the very least it might engage those who are more visually oriented. So here is one friendly “Gentile” thumbs up to your idea.

  55. Since the chapels are built using the hard earned tithing monies that the members sacrifice to give, I think it’s in keeping with God’s purpose to have a place of worship that’s funtional and yet uses funds prudently. I also think it makes more sense to build MORE chapels than to build fewer more elaborate ones.

    When I was a new convert to the church, I felt the same as my friend David who posted blog #54. BORING and in a few cases, some of the older chapels seemed to me even “tacky” in their out dated mode. It didn’t take long for me to realize that what is missing in physical attractivness is more than made up for in spiritual fulfillment.

    Now, when I go into houses of worship that are adorned, and are breathtakingly beautiful, I often see it as a distraction instead of an attraction.

  56. I think beauty is dependent upon creativity and imagination, not great expense; and it need not be distracting. The sun room in the house I grew up in is not fancy, but it is most attractive and I have never found it difficult to concentrate on either dinner or conversation while there.

    Clean lines, judicious use of color and texture, good lighting-these are the things from which an attractive building is derived. Properly used they can convey a sense of beauty without drawing attention to themselves. In this respect, architecture is like a woman’ make up. If it’s done poorly, a man notices the eye shadow and lipstick. Done well, he sees remarkably attractive eyes and lips.

    I might add that in this day and age, inviting one’s neighbors and friends to church is usually more effective evangelism than knocking on doors. Hence, an attractive worship space might have some positive bearing on gaining a few converts. It’s not going to replace caring and spirituality, but it might make visitors a bit more comfortable and at home, so they can concentrate on the message and not how unimaginative the building is or why they’re sitting under a basketball hoop. (BTW, I LOVE basketball :-)

  57. I too have tried to come up with new floor plans for the church on a few occassions, but have yet to come up with something as functional as the current design.

    I can see the pro’s and cons to the standard buildings the church builds now. It is great when you are in a different city, for example, because you know which one is the LDS church without even looking for the sign. Also, when you are visiting a different ward, everything is located in pretty much the same spot. It adds to the unity of the church – the same floor plan, same lesson, same heirarchy as every other ward. And i understand the need for the church to save money wherever possible.

    On the downside, when you live here in the suburbs of Salt Lake and there are 10 buildings on one road that look exactly the same (and i mean down to the brick, carpeting, etc) it is not only drab and obnoxious but painfully difficult to know which building you are supposed to be at. several times i have missed farewells, baby blessings, etc because i went to the wrong church and didn’t figure that out until it was too late. I for one would sure appreciate larger address numbers that can be seen well from the street.
    I love that my building was built in the 70′s “H” pattern. We do have a little bit of natural light thanks to the floor to ceiling windows at the front of the chapel (we hold our satelite broadcasts in another, newer building in our stake) It might have a rust-orange color scheme and be made entirely of cinderblocks (we dont have velcro walls!), but at least it is a little unique and still extremely functional… with plenty of dead ends for catching the little ones.

  58. John Hamer says:

    I was looking through some of my papers and I found another one. I think this one is earlier, probably from 1985. It’s a one-ward meetinghouse rather than a Stake Center / Tabernacle and it’s more temple-inspired than tabernacle-inspired.

    1985 Meetinghouse

    Some peculiarities include 4 upstairs classrooms (with no elevators / very non-ADA-ready). Also, the young men and young women have their own side of the building.

  59. Kevin Barney says:

    Separating the YM and YW was an inspired design choice, John. The YM may throw spit wads at you, but the YW will erect a statue in your honor.

  60. Left Field says:

    I like this. It avoids a lot of the issues that were noted with the other design. It looks like the deacons’ room is somehow connected with the sacrament preparation area, as you had in the other plan. The main criticisms that come to mind are that the YM/YW rooms look way bigger than they need to be (as you said, a reflection of the perspective of your age), having the primary classrooms open directly into the primary assembly room is not a good idea, and there are no rooms dedicated to the elders and high priests. C1 and C2 might be big enough for the high priests, but the elders would have to either use the chapel or else open all the dividers in the upstairs classrooms. Both of those options for the elders would seem like an ad hoc solution. My main suggestion would be putting in another classroom large enough for the elders. What is that above the chapel overflow? A windowed cry room, perhaps?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,657 other followers