Nineteenth-Century Mormon Architecture and City Planning by C. Mark Hamilton

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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.

image via Wikipedia

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?CRW_8627


Reviewed on September 10, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I think the Conference Center is so amazing. Especially if you’ve been inside and seen the structural work. My favorite feature of the Conference Center is the garden area on the roof.

    Here is a link to a new book out that I was interested in reading. It is called Sacred Walls. It is more about the temple symbols in the architecture, but it looks really interesting.

    Another book that is similar is called Symbols in Stone. I think I bought this book for my dad, but I can’t find it now of course.

  • The Scott monument in Edinburgh is striking for it’s gothic and fantastical architecture.

    The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence is spectacular; it captivates you and holds sway over Florence. It’s beautiful with its white brick and the almost insanely and impressive decorations adorning every inch of it.

    The Bavarian State Opera building has a wonderful symmetry to it and while it’s not the most showy of buildings, it still is impressive.

    The Walter Pyramid in California is absolutely striking, it’s a pyramid; deceptively simple design but stands out from the crowd.

    Ennis-Brown house, while some people might call it ugly, I think it has a beauty to it. It’s almost been uprooted from another world. In fact, Frank Lloyd Wright has designed some great buildings.

    Notre-Dame Cathedral it almost rivals Italian cathedrals in pure opulence.

    Pyramids in Egypt. Need I say more?

    US Air Force Academy (Cadet Chapel) it looks kind of like an optical illusion that doesn’t work.

    Two of my favourite buildings are the Chrysler, it’s like the pinnacle of art deco, you think of the Jazz Age and you think of Gatsby, long cigarette holders and the Chrysler (well I know I do). And the other building is the Flatiron Building, which is just wow.

  • I think architecture is interesting, but I can never read about it. I am totally riveted when someone is telling me about architecture – I loooved the architecture class I took at university – but books about it send me to sleep. I have no idea why. The pictures are pretty though! 🙂

  • The two Tabernacles I have seen are built on rises that you can only see when you come around a curve of a very fast highway (such as the one in D.C.). It is a spectacular sight, if for no other reason than the surprise factor! And I’ve always wondered if there have been any accidents because of people gaping when they go around the curve!

  • Haiku Amy, I’ve been inside the Conference center, but I didn’t do the tour this time around. It was mostly an outside walk-around this time! I do want to read more about temples, so thanks for those links!

    DamnedConjuror, awesome list! I’m going over to wikipedia to find pictures! Thanks. I’m glad I’m not alone in enjoying pretty buildings.

    I have seen Notre Dame. But I was in a naive “I just got off a plane and I’m in Paris!” mood so I think I didn’t appreciate it enough. Oh, if I ever go back….

    I know this is blasphemy, but I was very under impressed with the pyramids. They’re just huge, but I wasn’t “wowed” as I thought I’d be. I’ve always loved ancient Egypt! Maybe it was the 100 degree sunshine? If I ever go to Egypt again, it won’t be in the summer. King Tut’s tomb was super cool, though. Not architectural, but cool.

    Jenny, and that’s kind of the opposite of me! I think I’d have a hard time sitting in a lecture. But a book I can go back and reread until I understand, but a lecture I think would go to fast for me. Sitting and talking to someone would be interesting, though.

    rhapsodyinbooks, I heard (and this may or may not be true) that they had to change the lighting of the DC Temple at night because it was causing too much traffic disturbance. They had to make it less noticeable! I hope it didn’t cause accidents, but then I wonder about why else would I have heard that story…

    I guess architecture does go back to the whole “location location location” mantra, huh. Location helps add to the “stunning” impact.

  • The Pyramids are awe inspiring because of the sheer architectural majesty of them. They aren’t the most beautiful of pyramids, that would probably be the Mayan pyramids.

    Other buildings:

    The Pompidou Centre in France is a monstrosity of glass, steel and what look like waterslides stuck on the front. It looks like it has scaffolding still around it but yet it’s a marvel. It has an audacity all of its own.

    The Jewish Museum in Berlin is like an artwork you can walk through. It’s probably one of the only things worth seeing in Berlin. Which has some terrible buildings, West Berlin is full of these dull modern buildings and East Berlin is well, it doesn’t have much.

    Fallingwater is great. I still think the Ennis-Brown house or The Guggenheim is Frank Lloyd Wrights best work.

  • I love these temples you mentioned. I also love the Oakland temple, probably for the view of the bay. It is just lovely up on that hill. Speaking of hills I was thinking of an amazing community structure build several hundreds years ago near Camp Verde, AZ called Montezuma’s castle. Every time I see that I’m amazed that those people build their living accommodations so high up on a cliff. No spectacular art work, just a lot of high scaling walls.

    I also happened to like the State Capital in Albany New York. It’s not as fancy as the cathedrals but the ceiling art work on the inside I loved considering the time period.

    The Domo in Milan is quite impressive. I think it took a couple of hundred years to build.

  • DamnedConjuror, thanks again for the lists…lots to look through!

    Tami, I haven’t seen that one, but I’ve heard that Oakland and is it San Diego are just stunning!

    I don’t think buildings need to be fancy to be stunning: I mean, look at the pyramids, like DamnedConjuror mentioned.

    I did not know the Duomo in Milan took hundreds of years! That’s incredible.

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