“Temple Building,” Church History Topics
Temples have been a part of the Latter-day Saint experience since almost the founding of the Church.1 Several revelations Joseph Smith received before 1833 spelled out where to purchase land and how to construct a “house of the Lord” where the glory of God should reside.2 Referring to revelations and at least one vision, Joseph and his counselors in the First Presidency directed the construction of the first house of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio.3 This and other planned temples in Independence, Far West, and Adam-ondi-Ahman were intended for congregational worship and other functions encompassing all aspects of Latter-day Saint religious and community practice. As additional temples were constructed, first in Nauvoo and later in Utah, they became increasingly focused on the sacred ordinance functions they are known for today.
Temple floor plans changed with each generation as leaders and members of the Church saw opportunities for adjustments. Church President John Taylor approved redesigning the floor plan of the Salt Lake Temple in the 1880s. Joseph F. Smith removed large assembly rooms from temples built in the 1910s. In 1953 David O. McKay developed the use of film to make temple work more accessible to non-English speakers. Spencer W. Kimball increased the efficiency and lowered the costs of building and maintaining temples. The architectural styles for temples largely reflect the trends of the time in which they were built.
Presidents of the Church have overseen all aspects of temple design, construction, and use. Different Presidents have been involved in the details of temple building usually based on their own training and interest and the number of temples in construction. Joseph Smith worked closely with architect William Weeks on many details of the Nauvoo Temple construction.4 Brigham Young followed Joseph’s pattern by working closely with architects on temples built in Utah, which reflected designs and floor plans of the Nauvoo Temple.5 Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant set the budgets for temples built under their direction and gave general approvals for overall plans and designs. Gordon B. Hinckley called for many smaller temples in increasingly remote areas of the world in the late 20th century. By inspiration, he also provided the initial floor plan idea that architects would implement for these new temples.6
Church members with experience and training in architecture and building have generally led temple design. Temple architects in the 19th century like Truman O. Angell and William H. Folsom drew on their experience as carpenters. In the early 20th century, the Church sponsored design competitions for temples such as those in Cardston, Laie, Mesa, and Idaho Falls. The architects who won these competitions had all been trained at architecture schools. In the second half of the 20th century, a full-time employee of the Church supervised temple design and a team of employees prepared the construction documents. More recently, contracted architectural firms have prepared construction documents under the direction of Church architects.
Since the 1830s, tithing and other Church member donations have financed temple construction. Members in the 19th century donated time and materials to build temples that represented their full sacrifice and consecration. The concept of using donated labor to build temples was used again in the 1950s with a labor missionary program, which employed many local members as missionaries in the construction of meetinghouses, schools, and temples throughout the world. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, construction companies have generally performed the construction, working under contract with the Church and under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric and Church employees.
Many changes in temple style, design, and construction occurred as the number of temples increased. In 1980, 17 temples were in operation; a boom in the 1980s and again between 1998 and 2001 brought the number above 100, which made it possible for a majority of Saints to live within 200 miles (320 kilometers) of a temple. By April 2019 the Church supported 162 operating temples, with another 47 announced or under construction.