The Leura chapel is located in the Blue Mountains of Australia in New South Wales, near Sydney. Designed in 1980 by Dale Swan from the firm of Ancher/Mortlock/Woolley and built in 1983, this is a striking departure from the Standard Plans program administered by Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City. I was very pleased to learn of its existence this week. The building has been published in two books, is featured on the architects’ website, and won a Merit Award from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1984.
Leura, New South Wales
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
3,850 square metres
Load-bearing brickwork, steel roof frame
Painted brick, concrete, corrugated iron
The Mormon Church has traditionally chosen the design for each of its local chapels from a set of standardised designs. The chapel at Leura was one of the earliest breaks from this tradition, but was nevertheless required to incorporate the church’s familiar symbolism.
The result is a tower with a stylised and tapered finial and low spreading, white, domestic-scale roofs. The prominent hilltop site is typical of locations for traditional churches, so an effort was made to create a building that was recognisable as a church, while eschewing traditional church elements.
Light is the overall theme of the interior, and it is brought in from four sources to play on a volume of white surfaces. Primary sources are the close-mullioned window to the gallery and forecourt, and skylights at the ridge line. A large window recessed into the tower brings light along the surface of the end wall, behind the dais, to pass over the vault of the gallery. The most subtle light enters from a huge half-cylindrical reflector on the west side. Light is reflected up along the roof plane from an opening at the level of the pews, but as the roof extends to the centre of the cylinder, no direct view out is obtained. This cylinder also acts as a somewhat oversized roof gutter." (From ‘The Master Architect Series IV – Ken Woolley and Ancher Mortlock & Woolley,’ page 102-103.)
"NSW7 Church of Jesus Christ and The Latter Day Saints
Railway Parade, Leura
1983. Ancher Mortlock & Woolley
Public access available
The early 1980s saw a range of white architectural projects. This church by architect Ken Woolley incorporated symbols which are required by the Mormons in their churches, including the use of a tower and low-spreading, domestically-scaled roofs. The white colour in the church is also a requirement of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints.
The serene interior space is lit with reflected light from semi-circular troughs at ground level. Light also enters through the ridge line where it is baffled by the tie beams. A large window, recessed into the tower which passes over the vault of the gallery, lights the speakers from the side and from above. The construction of the chapel was kept very simple to facilitate the use of volunteer labour to build the church." (From ‘The Architecture of East Australia’ by Bill MacMahon, page 122-123.)
The design incorporates simple, clean lines into the building. This allows for building costs that are in line with Standard Plan meetinghouses of similar size. The white exterior building materials and roof reflect the hot Australian sun away, helping to keep the building cool, providing energy savings, and a building that stands out in the neighborhood. The cultural hall opens up into the barrel-vaulted corridor and beyond into an open courtyard space for activities, directly linking the interior and exterior.
The font for the building is located at the entry lobby with step-down seating leading to the waters edge for viewing. The location of the font here is a sermon all by itself teaching the importance of baptism to the LDS Church. Baptisms are arguably the most important ordinance performed in our meetinghouses. And yet the space for baptism is in many cases unimportant with regard to its placement in the building. Putting the font behind closed doors hidden in a back classroom does little to promote our understanding of the importance of baptism. The font here exists in the most visible space of the building.
This type of approach to the building of sacred space is recognized by the community who have embraced the building, the members who use the building, and the design professionals who have awarded the building with deserving public recognition. The building also becomes a missionary face for the Church that clearly communicates the gospel principles of baptism, the light of Christ, the living water, renewal, and community. Repeating this chapel as part of the Standard Plan program would endear members to their buildings and be a place of joy for members of the community to rally around and support.
Unfortunately no building has been built in the past 25 years that resembles this, nor have any of the innovations or features discovered here by the architect been used elsewhere in LDS buildings. It is rumored that the presiding bishop, during a tour of the building said the Church would never again build a meetinghouse like this. And none ever have. This is the only recent LDS Meetinghouse I am aware of that has been published or honored with an award because of its beauty and architectural merit. If there are other recent modern LDS chapels out there that you are familiar with, that are of good report or praiseworthy, I would be interested to learn of them.
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