25 July 2008

New Temple Design: Rexburg and Twin Falls Idaho

Rexburg Temple by Scott O. Smith

Not having visited the Rexburg or Twin Falls Idaho Temples in person yet, I can hardly offer an expert critique of their design and execution. However, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on the most recent Temples of the LDS Church. From an exterior standpoint, the Rexburg Temple is more grand, elegant, proportional, and attractive than that of the Twin Falls. Whether intended or not, the building merges elements from both the St. George and Mesa Temples to draw from the past, giving us something familiar, while presenting those elements in a new and fresh way.

Rexburg Temple by GoofyJ

Rexburg, Idaho Temple
The architect of the Rexburg Temple, Architectural Nexus, designed repeating narrow vertical windows in the side fa├žades that are very much in the language of the Mesa Arizona Temple. As is the building base that the Temple rests on. Additionally, the extension of this base pulling forward from the main building is almost an exact replica from Mesa. With a single axis rectangular plan rather than a dual axis square plan, the Rexburg Temple also has similarities with the St. George Temple. Here we have a linear, elongated plan and a prominent steeple that hierarchically establishes the focal point of the building, directing us to the building entrance. The St George Temple took the single steeple from Kirtland and Nauvoo and pulled it out of the building, protruding to the front. This similar language has been used at Rexburg and Twin Falls. Windows have been inserted into this protruding steeple, and the most prominent part of the Temple, the Celestial room, placed inside of it.

Mesa Temple by MatthewPHX showing facade and protruding entrance base similar to Rexburg

St. George Temple showing a single protruding steeple

Twin Falls, Idaho Temple
The architect of the Twin Falls Temple, MHTN Architects, was lead by Principal Kyle Taft for this project. The Temple square footage is about half the square footage of the Rexburg Temple, and it definitely has similar features. But somehow, using Rexburg as a model and adding the change in scale did not equal as strong of a design in this case. As you can see, the base is gone, there is no front extension, and the elegant window repetition on the sides is not nearly as interesting.

Twin Falls Temple under construction

Another design failure is quoted from the architect himself, “He noted that the endowment room clerestory windows were originally intended to filter natural light, but architectural requirements for passage of electrical and mechanical systems necessitated that artificial light be used behind that stained glass.” (source) The technical systems running through a building should never dictate the design, unless of course that is what’s intended. For this reason, this project would get a very negative critique in any beginning design school. The design process should allow for the expression of form, materials, and systems. To not account for the technical systems through the building while compromising one of the most important spaces in the building is embarrassing. Design is problem solving. If beautiful natural light is desired, there is an economical, beautiful workable solution. There always is. To me, this is where preparation, planning, and revelation can come to play for an LDS architect - especially as it regards the important design of a Temple.

One good feature of the Twin Falls Temple to note is the placement of the exterior lighting. Rather than washing out the night sky, the lighting is strictly focused on the Temple. This will help minimize waste, save money, and keep the night sky dark, protecting wildlife and the observatory at the nearby College of Southern Idaho.

Regional Materials
At the Twin Falls Temple, the beautiful rock forming the flowerbeds is native to Idaho, but most of the other interior finishes are imported. The granite floors are from India, and the anigre wood on the first floor is from Africa. While this may seem exotic and desirable, for a Temple to feel like a local Temple, a beautiful touch is to search for the best local materials available and use them. This regional approach to building adds distinction and flavor to each Temple, even in a “standard plan.” This approach is utilized for the artwork and stained glass, where local Idaho painters are featured, which is beautiful. The building, as a work of art, could reflect the same local flavor and customs. Rexburg, Twin Falls, and St. George all used regional materials for the exterior of the buildings. St. George used native red sandstone quarried north of the city, which was then plastered white. Both Rexburg and Twin Falls used white quartz precast panels that were mined in neighboring Washington state. While the St. George material selection was done out of necessity, I think a regional material selection today adds to the local beauty of the temple by becoming a Temple of the people and of the land in which it serves. Additionally, this provides significant cost and transportation savings as well as helping to stimulate the local economy in which the Temple is based. Regional building is sustainable building.

Temple as Art or Decoration?
Part of the problem may be how we view our buildings. The Magic Valley Times-News had an article highlighting the Twin Falls Temple. A quote from the article states, “But all the art, as well as the architecture, is just decoration. As an architect, Taft strived to avoid having the temple distract from the function it will serve. ‘What happens within the temple is quantum leaps more important than the building itself. We're providing a setting for the sacred worship,’ he said.”

Twin Falls Endowment Room - art, architecture, or decoration?

I profoundly disagree philosophically with the architect on his approach to this project. If what he stated were true, there would be no trims, mouldings, or wall mural paintings inside the Temple, because they would distract from what’s really important. If the building is simply viewed as a necessary evil that is constantly taking away from the sacred worship inside, then the most appropriate solution would be Minimalism. Since LDS Temples are far from being designed in the minimalist language, this explanation cannot be true.

My belief is that buildings are a sculpted art form that we inhabit. This is especially true in context of a Temple – a house of worship. As such, the building has the ability to add something of real value to our worship. In my mind, I cannot separate worship from the surrounding context in which it is placed. There will always be a relationship between the two. As such, all forms of art can enhance and add to our worship.

Rexburg Temple by packarddaniel


Stephen said...

Design is problem solving. If beautiful natural light is desired, there is an economical, beautiful workable solution. There always is.

That is well said.

old teacher said...

Damn I am so sorry. He was a super cat.

L-D sus said...

My favorite part of the Rexburg Temple is the flood of early morning light in the Celestial room.

I suggest getting to the Temple early, so that you can be in the Celestial room as the sun rises.

L-D Sus

Allen said...

I'm waiting for the day when temples have shorter steeples and thus less impact in the neighborhoods. Considering the sluggishness of the Church in changing tradition, I'll probably be waiting a long time....