Since I just spent a long weekend in Utah, I suppose it’s appropriate to review the book I recently read about Mormon architecture! Except for the Kirtland Temple picture, the pictures below (and the links to additional pictures) are ones I took this weekend.
As I read about Chicago architecture last month, I found myself curious to read about Mormon architecture (such as the Salt Lake Temple) as well. The only published book I found that talks about the architectural aspects of Mormon architecture, from Kirtland to Utah, was Nineteenth-Century Mormon Architecture and City Planning by C. Mark Hamilton, an academic volume on the subject.
Because it is academic (published by Oxford University Press), I’d suggest it’s only for extremely curious readers. I liked reading it, but I was specifically looking for it! I was mostly interested in the Temple architecture when I picked up this volume, but I admit that all of it interested me to some extent.
This volume covers nineteenth-century Mormon temples, tabernacles, meetinghouses, other associated buildings (such as cultural halls and offices), domestic architecture, and various other buildings (such as governmental buildings, warehouses, and schools). It also had a chapter discussing the Mormon concepts of city planning and a background chapter on Mormon history. It was not, however, a Mormon book: it was an architecture book. Details from Mormon history are interspersed throughout simply because the history helps explain various architectural styles.
The facts behind a number of specific buildings fascinated me.
The Kirtland (Ohio) Temple (built 1833-1836) is a mixture of various styles, including Georgian, Federal, Greek, and Gothic. The classical elements both inside and out were probably from patterns in carpentry textbooks to some extent. Many of the builders were young amateurs.
The Salt Lake (Utah) Temple (built 1853-1893; yes, forty years) is a distinctly English architectural style, specifically when one looks at the medieval crenelations at the top. That may have been influenced by Brigham Young’s familiarity with England. I admit that I love the look of this building, and learning that it’s walls are six-to-eight feet thick really does make it more fortress-like in my mind.
Many of the other temples built in Utah in the nineteenth-century were likewise crenelated and fortress-like. Personally, I think these settlers were trying to say “No, we’re not leaving this time!” (Mormons had been driven from Kirtland, Ohio, where they’d built a temple; Jackson County, Missouri; and Nauvoo, Illinois, where they’d also built a temple.)
I also was interested in construction of the Salt Lake Tabernacle (home to the Mormon Tabernacle organ and Choir and a hall with excellent acoustics; built 1863-1870) and the Assembly Hall (Victorian-Gothic; 1877-1882).
I hadn’t heard of (let alone seen) many of the other beautiful meeting houses and other buildings discussed, but I was surprised by how architecturally creative the buildings were, considering the time period and the geographic isolation of the people building them. Even in the 1860s, many buildings were built by following 1820-1840s popular styles because the builders were so removed from the core of architectural thought. Once the railroads came through Utah, more mainstream architecture was built in Utah.
While I’d seen Brigham Young’s Beehive House (built 1852-1854) and Lion House (built 1854-1856) before, I hadn’t seen a picture of his Forest Farmhouse (built 1861-1863), which I like better. It just looks so homey!
I also liked to learn about Brigham Young Academy (built 1884-1891) in Provo, Utah, because that is the town where I went to college. While this text (published in 1995) mentioned that the Academy Building was slated for demolition, since then it has instead been restored and is now a gorgeous local library. I’m so glad it wasn’t destroyed!
The text was scholarly and had very thorough endnotes, which I enjoy. I would have preferred footnotes because I read all of them. I also was regularly referring to the photographs of the buildings, so I had my hand in three pages of the book at once whenever I read it!
I found this book to be surprisingly easy to read (especially after the Chicago architecture one) and I think that’s partially because I’m more familiar with Mormon history than I was with the Chicago history. I also think the Chicago architecture book was a bit more technical as it discussed the buildings. Hamilton’s volume used lots of architectural terms I was not familiar with, but by looking at pictures and reading sentences in context, I learned the terms fairly easy.
I’m glad I read about some buildings I was curious about; I do think they are beautiful. Now I am curious to learn about the twentieth-century Mormon buildings too, buildings like the modern temples (I love the Hong Kong Temple), the Conference Center, and even the Office Building. I really like learning the history of these buildings.
What building(s) do you think are beautiful?