Jonathan Kland has a BS in Construction Management from BYU and an MA in Architecture from the University of Florida. From 2008 to 2010, he was an architect for the LDS Church, where he developed a new series of Standard Plan meetinghouses for the US/Canada. Called the Independence, this plan includes eight versions, each of which is constructed in linked components, allowing for easy expansion to a larger phase as needed. The first of these was recently dedicated adjacent to the Kansas City Temple. His blog documenting and celebrating outstanding Mormon architecture is ldsarchitecture.wordpress.com.
For bold new ideas in ecclesiastical architecture, the world might well look to the Mormon Church where there are no narrowly prescribed conceptions nor pre-determined structural plans, where the only limitations placed upon the architect are the canons of beauty, good taste, usefulness and the boundaries of his own mind as guided and directed by revelations to fulfill the job to which he is assigned by proper authority. 
So stated Joseph H Weston, in a 1949 publication sponsored by the Presiding Bishopric titled ‘Mormon Architecture.’ While it is most interesting to hear this statement in light of where we are today, I would venture to say that the greatest architectural legacy of the LDS Church lies in our meetinghouses. With the majority of buildings now using standard designs, even the recent past held a breadth of style, material usage and detailing as broad as the American architectural landscape. As such, the history of LDS meetinghouse architecture is in large part also the history of American architecture.
What makes a church beautiful, special, or sacred? Is it the art, windows or steeple? It’s uniqueness? Aesthetic qualities such as materials and detailing? The challenge with architecture is that there is no single answer to these questions of beauty. Every generation developed principles and styles that they believed exemplified beauty. And each one of our buildings, in its own way, is an attempt at an answer.
As one of the only remaining texts on Roman architecture to survive, Vitruvius and his ten books on architecture have influenced over two thousand years of Western architecture.
Vitruvius advocates the study and imitation of nature as one of the most important pursuits of an architect. For nature leads to beauty, which is fundamental to the practice of architecture once durability and utility have been achieved in a building. These three conditions – a famous triad at the root of architectural design – of durability, utility and beauty, were to be applied through rigorous laws learnt from nature: every aspect of an architectural endeavor was to be harmonized according to such natural principles, which were truly rational according to Vitruvius. 
This harmony with the natural world is still a quest that continues today. Several examples of imitating nature anciently were in the use of columns and low lighting levels to imitate the forest and by having temples created in the proportions and modularity of the perfect human body. Just as the body isn’t complete without all its members, buildings need all parts to be complete, whole, and in perfect harmony. This natural yearning for the complete and perfect in buildings contributed to ancient views of beauty in architecture. These principles had great influence over architectural education and training through the Middle Ages, Renaissance and continuing into the 19th Century.
Early Mormon communities drew from the styles and design options of their time, including the many Revivalist styles popular through the 1800’s. “The first public structure in a new Utah community would usually be a meetinghouse, a structure which, like its early Puritan prototypes, was intended for multiple uses in a community in which all activities had their sacred meaning.”  The late 19th century through the turn of the century saw the emergence of many American revival styles incorporating historical styles from the past. As these styles flourished, the influence spread to the Church, producing some of the most beautiful buildings in our Church history. Vitruvian principles were used to achieve stunning results such as the Paris and Bountiful Tabernacles, Salt Lake 2nd Ward, Spring City Ward, Forest Dale Ward, and the Logan 1st Ward.
Simultaneous to the rise of this period-style architecture, the modern era saw its beginnings with architects who were looking to the future, rather than the past, with more progressive, modernist styles and a rejection of historical revivalism. The Bauhaus school of building established by Walter Gropius in Europe taught the art of the complete building in unity as a whole and with all its parts as one. However, far more popular in America, beginning in the first few decades of the 20th Century, was the emergence of the Prairie style. With an emphasis on the horizontal and integration with the landscape, this style caught on with meetinghouse architects of the time, producing such buildings as the Clinton Ward, Ensign Ward, Ogden Deaf Branch, Ogden 13th Ward, and the Parowan 3rd Ward. Ultimately, Gropius, Wright and the Modern movement were seeking the same ideals as Vitruvius, but using a different palette of materials, much of which centered on the role of ornamentation. The battle between our historical past and a modern progress looking to the future would continue for many years with LDS architects firmly on both sides of the debate.
After World War I, due to increasing membership and building expenses, LDS Church leaders created a centralized architectural department where standardized plans could be produced in order to erect meetinghouses more quickly and less expensively. Called The Bureau, much of the work was done by Joseph Don Carlos Young. As an architect that had already done a great deal of work for the Church, Young looked to the past in his Bureau designs, all of which were done in a Colonial Revivalist style. Based on an innovative design of a U-shaped chapel and amusement hall with an entry at the rear between the two, this standard plan, nicknamed the ‘Colonel’s Twins’ or the Young Twins, was not mandatory, but was presented as an option to the wards.  This would signal an important precursor to the standard repetitive use of plans that would be embraced to a much larger scale 30 years later. Examples of Bureau plans include the Ogden 19th Ward, Iona Ward, Whittier Ward, Nibley Park Ward and Belvedere Ward.
Even with the Bureau, wards that were able to would still hire their own architects and design their own buildings in order to meet the unique challenges that were appropriate for their community. As the Great Depression set in, more and more wards would use member labor. In spite of the challenging financial situation, spectacular meetinghouse designs were to come out of the depression era with a great deal of time and sacrifice being put into each building. Two spectacular examples include the Ogden 4th ward and the Lincoln ward.
My interest in LDS architecture began with a class taken at BYU given by Paul Anderson. This class helped open my eyes to the variety of designs in LDS buildings as well as the virtually unknown heritage we have in our buildings. A graduate degree in architecture later, along with working for the LDS Church for several years, helped spark my current project of compiling and researching LDS meetinghouses. In the next post, I’ll discuss the move through modernism, the effects of correlation on meetinghouse design and the link all this had with America’s move to the suburbs and embrace of postmodernism. My final post will then explore several excellent meetinghouse designs in detail and talk about the current and future state of LDS Meetinghouses.
 Bradley, Martha Sonntag. The Church and Colonel Saunders: Mormon Standard Plan Architecture. MA thesis. Brigham Young University, 1981. 160.
 Tavernor, Robert. Introduction to Vitruvius: On Architecture, by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. Trans. Richard Schofield. New York: Penguin Group, 2009. xviii.
 Williams, Peter W. Houses of God: Region, Religion, and Architecture in the United States. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997. 221.
 Jackson, Richard W. Places of Worship: 150 Years of Latter-day Saint Architecture. Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2003. 176-78.