15 February 2009

We believe in being functional

Many in the Church believe that the 14th article of faith is "We believe in having meetings" when in reality it is "We believe in being functional." For the Latter-day Saints, 'functional' appears to be a virtue, and indeed precedes form - in all its representations. Many references to Mormon art deals with functionality first. I have primarily looked at our built forms, but this also applies to other forms of art, such as our paintings, which typically function as decoration, our music, our homes, and our lives. What causes function to surpass other virtues of Mormon life? Often conspicuously missing are terms such as "beauty" or even "delight" as a virtue in our worship.

"In my growing-up years in Germany, I attended church in many different locations and circumstances—in humble back rooms, in impressive villas, and in very functional modern chapels." (Pres Dieter F Uchtdorf - Feb 2009)

"...four small meetinghouses in Nigeria. I had seen them under construction—simple, functional..." (Derek A. Cuthbert 1st Q of 70 - Sep 1987)

"According to Robert J. Little, manager of architectural services for the Building Division, the new generation of Church buildings 'are designed to make form follow function.'" (Nov 1981)

"Basically I think the Church can be proud of its buildings. They are very functional." (Elder John H Vandenberg - Jul 1972)

"In addition, LDS meetinghouses became more functional and comfortable, with electricity, indoor plumbing, central heating, and recreation halls." (William G Hartley - Sep 1999)

"President Spencer W. Kimball taught: 'The House of the Lord is functional.'" (Pres Carlos E Asay - Mar 1997)

Referring to the Tokyo Temple, "We succeeded in the creation of a rational, durable, and highly functional building." (Oct 1980)

"Pleased with the functional design of the Provo and Ogden temples, the First Presidency instructed the architects that the Washington Temple was to feature the same innovative single-room-session plan..." (Aug 1974)

"The ornate structure originally built for the institute at Moscow, Idaho, above, has given way in recent years to a more functional building" (Dec 1976)

"We must stop wanting elaborate buildings and temples just to bolster the pride of Church members in areas in which they happen to live. When large sums of money are spent for elaborate and costly church buildings, it deprives the less prosperous Saints from having simple meetinghouses in which to worship and smaller, more functional temples wherein they may receive those blessings that God has reserved for all his children, rich and poor alike." (Elder Theodore M Burton - Mar 1971)

"...we want functional music in our worship service." (O Leslie Stone - Aug 1973)

"Hymns are functional by nature, and serve the immediate needs of people." (Feb 1986)

"To be comfortable, a house has to be functional." (Basic Manual for Women)

All these things technically meet our needs, but what do they do for our wants? Often, we want more beautiful music, more beautiful spaces to worship in, more beautiful LDS-themed painting or sculpture - in general more beauty in our lives as a direct result of being LDS. How does functionality fit in with the law of consecration? Alma spoke about the church "walk[ing] uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants." (Mosiah 18:29) The artistic consecration of all things applies to our wants as much as it does to our needs. Some may argue that functionality is more appropriate in these hard economic times, but I would argue that hard times calls for even more a return to beauty and meaning in life by using our talents to uplift, enrich, and bring greater beauty to this world.


Th. said...


Ohhh.... This is interesting. I've gotten this feeling so many times, I just never realized it was so ingrained.

James said...

Recently I got hold of Bushman's Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction. In it, he describes the architecture of our buildings as "severely functional." Too true...

A Girl Called Dallan said...

I believe that beauty is necessary for the health of the soul. In tough times, simple beauty is needed more than ever. Beauty is not incompatible with functionality, nor need it be expensive. It is as essential as any other aspect of creation.

L-d Sus said...

A couple years ago I did the structural design for a beautiful new Catholic church. It is an understatement to say that I was full of envy over that building. It was a masterwork (of the architect -not me) that inspired higher thoughts and worship.

I applaud and appreciate function, but that doesn't keep me from wishing for more beautiful chapels.

Sweet Em said...

I concur with A Girl Called Dallan in that function and beauty aren't mutually exclusive. An artist/architect/designer has only done half their job if they stop at functional. Simply being functional doesn't automatically result in cost efficiency (which is understandably important in a worldwide organization) and beauty doesn't mean lack of functionality.

Sidenote - I attended the Moscow ID institute building. Very functional, I felt the spirit there, and wow, what an ugly building!

green mormon architect said...

Thanks everyone for the good comments. My task right now is called the 'Value Engineering' of a Church building standard. Which means take a large percentage of the cost out. In reality this means take everything out that brought any level of beauty to a design. Beautiful cove lighting at the baptismal font? Too expensive, so it's gone. It basically says that there is no value to this feature other than a dollar value. And so it, and many other items are removed, the cost is met, and you have a new functional standard that is devoid of all life. It would actually be better to start over with a design using the new cost constraints so that you could reach the target without removing critical pieces of the design. So my goal is to not remove the important aesthetic pieces of the design, but rather to remove or change other systems so we can leave some beauty in the building. We'll see how that goes over...

Nelson said...

I know I'm coming in late to the discussion, but my comment was more topical for this post that in more recent entries. I agree with your thoughts completely, and have one question: is there a reason why our chapel spaces no longer have any natural light? The newer chapels don't seem to have any windows at all, and even the older chapels, with upper clerestory windows, often have curtains drawn. Is there something doctrinal to worshiping in fluorescently lit spaces?

green mormon architect said...

I couldn’t agree with you more! I have been pushing for this since I started here, with little to no success so far. I do not understand why, but it mostly is a cost/functional issue. For me the natural lighting is what makes the place beautiful, sacred, and inviting. I went to a study abroad in Finland while in school and we looked at so many beautiful churches. The thing they all had in common was beautiful expression by bringing natural daylight into the worship space.

A Girl Called Dallan said...

Natural light! I. would. love. that.