25 February 2009

Follow up on Temple Lighting

This is a follow-up response to the article showing the Bountiful Temple as a source of light pollution.

National Geographic
March 2009

"As an organist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in the Bountiful, Utah Temple for almost 12 years, I was surprised to see in your article a picture of that Temple using a long photo exposure to exaggerate its brilliance. I enjoy camping in the mountains to escape the city lights and see the brilliant night sky. If the intent in showing the Temple was to capture the beauty ofthat magnificent structure, then you have an outstanding photograph. But if you were vilifying the lighting, you failed to mention that the lights go out at 10 p.m. every night. Perhaps other sources of light pollution could adopt the same policy."

Karen Allgood Nashua, New Hampshire

With a bedroom view of the Temple, I was easily able to check last night and the lights actually go off at 11 p.m. each night, but that is still significant and a responsible step worthy of pointing out. Does anyone know what time the lights are turned off with their Temple?

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18 February 2009

Temple Design: a concept

This will be the first of ongoing posts over the next who-knows-how-long tracking through the concept development of my design for an LDS Temple – at least what a Temple represents to me and the approach I would take if ever given the opportunity. I welcome any and all critique – what you like and what you don’t like. Feel free to be honest. Believe me, after going through architecture school, I can take any criticism. I do not work in the Temple department, so this is nothing official; just my own design study exploration, because of my interest in it.

For me the Temple experience is really all about the representation of a journey; a journey of knowledge, discovery, and ultimately one of finding God. In many cases the journey is a hard, ugly, and trying struggle. Other times it is beautiful. I am reminded of the quote by Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a syndicated columnist out of Tulsa, Oklahoma stating that most of life is dull and mundane, with occasional vistas and spectacular views. “Life is like an old-time rail journey--delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.” (source) I think any representation of our journey through life should reflect this.

Progress in this journey is marked by knowledge gained, covenants made, and ordinances received. Movement, progression, and struggle are appropriate adjectives. Through whatever we may pass, there is a constant in life that leads us through the darkness.

Initially at least, I am looking at two concepts as a starting point to inform me of the form and organization of the Temple:

  • A forest as a means to find God – with obvious reference to the First Vision
  • A tent in the wilderness as a means to find God – with obvious reference to the Children of Israel

To be clear, I am principally looking at these concepts to help guide the form of the building, not the decoration of the building. In other words, the shaping of space will be guided by these images and concepts, rather than simply using them as a decorative motif.

Precedent images shown in this post that I am currently looking at:
  • Giovanni Battista Piranesi - sketches of the Prisons (Carceri d’invenzione or Prisons of Imagination)
  • Tents/Tepees
  • Forests/Tree houses

The next step is the hard step - applying all these ideas and information to an actual sketch or small study model that will become the basis for the building. I will post these as soon as they are ready.

Source of images shown:

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Update: back on track

My last post was full of sarcasm and anger, which is not consistent with the goals of this site. I have never been the activist type or the angry type, so in a way, that was out of character. What has hit me the hardest, I think, has been my move from Portland to Salt Lake. Being an environmentalist in Portland is a very different world from being an environmentalist in Utah. So I’m learning. My goal has been to keep this blog an optimistic one rather than one that is filled with pessimism, so I need to get back on that track…

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16 February 2009

Utah: the greatest snow, I mean pollution, on earth

How noble of the State of Utah to consider taking the pollution and waste away from the world to safeguard and keep with us here in these treasured mountain valleys. We will agree to pollute ourselves, so that you, the world, may remain clean.

What sacrifice.

So send us your carcinogens; your toxic waste; your combustible by-products. Of course it will cost you. But don't worry. We'll use the prostituted money from whoring our land away to help improve our public schools, so you don't need to worry about us or our increased risk of cancer. Utah deserves a great big shout-out for volunteering to be the sacrificial polluted lamb of the world.

Nuclear waste from other foreign countries? Sure. Oil shale from our mountains? Why not. New coke-burning oil refineries? Bring it on. If only President Clinton wouldn't have put such an effort into protecting our land against our wishes. Shame on him! We wanted the chance to pollute southern Utah as well.

Early settlers of Utah spoke about the need to care for and protect the land; to exercise wise stewardship for future generations. Fortunately today, a time when the future of our planet is more perilous and polluted than ever before, we're not concerned about all that. After all, pollution will bring money, jobs, and people here which is a big deal during a down economy. Right?

And so we have Energy Solutions. They own our NBA arena, so they must be great. All they want to do is import nuclear waste from foreign countries into Salt Lake City, that's all. What's the big deal? We should just leave this up to our State Legislators who, I'm sure will do the right ($$) thing.

We also have Consolidated Energy Systems. All they want to do is burn coke, a petroleum product that pollutes more than most forms of coal and emits chemicals that are carcinogenic; all in a residentially-zoned neighborhood. Why should Davis County even care? It's not like anyone would even notice another oil refinery up there. We should just leave this up to our State Legislators who, I'm sure will do the right ($$) thing here also.

So again, thank you to Utah, the Savior of our dying planet, for the willingness to take all of the unpleasant pollution of the world into your borders. We couldn't clean this place up without you...

Other-Worldly by tephdra
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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.
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07 February 2009

Light Pollution of Bountiful Temple in National Geographic

This afternoon I was in Urgent Care, which as it turns out is anything but urgent. It wasn't for me, but for my wife who injured her ankle on one of our staircases at home. She was carrying the baby when she fell, and fortunately there were no serious injuries. While passing the many hours of waiting, I happened upon the November 2008 issue of National Geographic magazine. The feature article is entitled "Our Vanishing Night" and discusses light pollution throughout the country. I really enjoyed the article and highly recommend it. I was shocked when I got to page 120-121 to see a full two-page image of the Bountiful Utah Temple.

Long-time followers of this blog - both of you - will recall that I did a post on light pollution a year ago where I talked about how the poorly designed lighting of the Temples was adding to the light pollution of our cities. And the image used was of the Bountiful Utah Temple. So out of all the buildings in the country to single out, the National Geographic chose an LDS building for this article. And out of all the LDS buildings in the country, they chose the same building I used to speak about light pollution last year. Even more remarkable is I don't think the Bountiful Temple is any more of a light-polluter than other LDS Temples - I simply chose it as representative of all the others, and because I found such a great image of it. (As a side note, I like the image used in my original post more than the one used in the National Geographic. I think it does a better job capturing the excess light from the Temple.)

So is it even possible that this is just a random coincidence? In my weird little mind, I'd like to think I had something to do with this appearing in the National Geographic. But that, of course, would mean they saw my blog...I'll probably never know, but I can always hope, right? So on to the important stuff:

There were a surprisingly-high four beautiful images representing Utah in the article. It seems excessive, since Utah is not any worse a light-polluter than other states, but at least one of the images showed a beautiful example of no light pollution, while the remaining three showed examples of excessive light pollution.

Here are the four images included from the magazine with the captions below:

Photograph by Jim Richardson
"'Let thy glorious light ever shine upon it,' beseeched the 1995 dedicatory prayer for the Mormon temple in Bountiful, Utah. Plenty of earthly light bathes the granite structure, its brilliance exaggerated by a long photo exposure."

Photograph by Jim Richardson
"As if admiring a sunset, Balanced Rock in Arches National Park, Utah, basks in the glow of the town of Moab—with about 5,000 residents—less than ten miles away."

Photograph by Jim Richardson
"The electric blush of Salt Lake City, more than a hundred miles away, brushes the horizon over Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats."

And finally the positive one, showing us the goal of what we can return to. In my opinion, we shouldn't have to go to a National Park to see this kind of spectacular sky.

Photograph by Jim Richardson
"A starry night gleams above Owachomo Bridge in Utah's Natural Bridges National Monument—named the first Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). 'Here you see something forgotten,' says ranger Scott Ryan, 'and reconnect with the sky.'"

One of my favorite quotes from the article states, "Of all the pollutions we face, light pollution is perhaps the most easily remedied."
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03 February 2009

Symmetry in Worship

Tabernacle in the wilderness

Endowment House - Salt Lake City

The physical facilities department of the Church exists, in part, to provide Church facilities that help bring souls unto Christ. How do our buildings do this? At face value, *any* building that provides shelter from the elements can help bring us to Christ. Joseph Smith's Red Brick Store, the Endowment House, the Israelite Tabernacle in the wilderness - no more than a tent - all provide examples of simple structures erected to provide ordinances and bring others to Christ. If these structures are sufficient, why do we need more?

LDS Chapel - Pacific

LDS Chapel - Pacific

At the other spectrum, our temples seek to be the best built, with the best materials, with not a vase or piece of artwork out of place. But many other buildings offer the same luxuries. There are buildings all over the world that use the best materials and craftsmanship. High-end homes, hotels, and retail are a few examples of buildings that often equal or exceed what we would call temple quality. So what is unique about our buildings that others could not provide for us? How do they stand out in a way others can't or don't? A common answer will be that our buildings are dedicated, through prayer, for a different purpose from other buildings. And they are. But the real answer to this question has to be something tangible – part of the building itself. In built form, how are they different? Our buildings can act as a tool to help increase faith and to teach the doctrines of the restored gospel. Similar to President Kimball’s call for the artistic representation of Mormonism, I feel that we have yet to truly represent ourselves in built form.

"We are proud of the artistic heritage that the Church has brought to us from its earliest beginnings, but the full story of Mormonism has never yet been written nor painted nor sculpted nor spoken. It remains for inspired hearts and talented fingers yet to reveal themselves. They must be faithful, inspired, active Church members to give life and feeling and true perspective to a subject so worthy.” “God expects Zion to become the praise and glory of the whole earth, so that kings hearing of her fame will come and gaze upon her glory…” (Spencer W Kimball)

He excluded buildings from his list, which may provide some insight into our current ‘function-heavy’ state of buildings in the Church. But the reality is our places of worship have the potential to provide arguably the best forum for sharing the story of who we are. Speaking of the Salt Lake Temple, President Hinckley said, "They [the architects] recognized that they were not simply constructing another building. They knew they were creating a temple of God." (source) Building practices and techniques are different now. For all intents and purposes, today we construct temples and chapels the same as other buildings. Temples are high-end commercial buildings and chapels are large residential buildings. Again I ask: how can we distinguish today a temple or chapel from another building?

Symmetry and asymmetry provide one potential answer.

Plan sketch of Cardston Alberta Temple by GMA with four reflective axes converging on the baptistery and Celestial room above

What is symmetry and why is it important? One definition is an attempt to achieve balance, proportionality, beauty or perfection. This reflects our desire for order and perfection in life. We see examples of symmetry all around us. There are many religious symbols of symmetry - a beehive, a cross, the star of David, a steeple, the sun, or a full moon. Reflective symmetry is the most easily recognizable form of symmetry and the most often used in LDS buildings. This involves utilizing at least one major axis and reflecting the objects to the other side of the axis. I have only found one LDS Temple (Manhattan New York) that did not use reflective symmetry in the design of the building; all the others do. Also, many LDS chapels use reflective symmetry.

Reflective symmetry in a building finds its literary equivalent in scriptural chiasmus. One of the best examples is found in Alma 36. Here Christ is the unchanging axis of reflection at the center of the scripture. Applying Alma 36 to our buildings forces us to ask - how is Christ at the center? How does He cause a transformation within? What does He change and how is that change reflected in the building? If incorporated into the design, this can be a powerful tool to infuse meaning into our spaces of worship. But real change is not possible under the rigor of reflective symmetry. If both sides of the coin are the same, the discussion is pretty much over. Reflection is symmetry for the masses - easily achievable and easily understood. It is also the most basic. We have to move beyond this to get to the real meaning of symmetry and what can make our buildings unique.

A broader and more engaging definition of symmetry is the transformation of an object with at least one property remaining constant. This opens the door to many new possibilities. Symmetry is never perfect - there are never all properties remaining constant - it wouldn't be a transformation then. Therefore, what is dis-similar becomes the most important part uniquely positioned as different. Looking at DaVinci’s Vitruvian man shows the ideal of perfection sought with a perfectly proportioned human body shown. What it fails to account for is the asymmetry of the internal organs, such as the heart - off center and only to one side of the body. This places the heart in a unique position, standing out from the rest, as to importance in sustaining life.

"Objects and phenomena around us show signs both of symmetry and its lack at the same time. In reality, a thing is symmetrical in one or more aspects. In other words, it conserves one or more of its properties under a particular transformation, (such as a reflection or a rotation), while it is asymmetrical in other aspects: that is, its other properties are not conserved. There is no perfect symmetry (when all properties are preserved) and no perfect asymmetry (when no single property is preserved)." (source)

So while Alma 36 is perfectly reflected internally, the position of the story in context of the Book of Mormon is not at the exact center, but slightly off center. Similarly the position of the heart in our body is not at the exact center, but slightly off center. Looking at several of our temples will provide similar examples. In the case of the Orlando and Helsinki temples, the baptistery is placed off axis. Located as an object within an otherwise symmetrical building, the baptistery becomes the lifeblood, or heart, of the building. The plan tells us the baptistery is more important than the other spaces. It is out of place and therefore set apart for a special purpose within the context of order, rigor, and sameness. Some transformation shifted it off axis. As the heart of the Temple, the baptism of our deceased ancestors provides life and salvation for us and for them. As Joseph Smith taught, "Those Saints who neglect it in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation." (TPJS, p. 193) In this way, even the Celestial room, by remaining on axis, is overlooked and blends in with the other symmetrical spaces.

Plan sketch of Orlando Temple by GMA showing baptistery as heart of building off both axes

Plan sketch of Helsinki Temple by GMA showing baptistery as heart of building off the axis

Applying this broader definition of symmetry to our spiritual lives places us as the object being transformed. A conversion is a spiritual symmetry, transforming from the 'natural' person to one born of God. This creates a perfect, new creation - beautiful and full of balance. A new person. Pulling important spaces off axis is one way our temples and places of worship assist us in this sometimes painful and wrenching transformation as we learn of God and participate in saving ordinances. In this way, perfect reflective symmetry is actually the opposite of conversion because if both sides of the reflection are the same, there is no change. The spiritual transformation we want of ourselves is not an exact replica of who we are, but a transformation that changes us into something better. This could be seen in the building as we symbolically progress through our mortal existence, as shown in the examples at Orlando and Helsinki. Other examples could involve a transformation through movement and progression.

Pablo Picasso. Nude on a Beach

Another type of symmetry was explored by the cubist painters and expands on the concept of a transformed object with a property remaining constant. The cubist painting seen above offers multiple viewpoints of the object while maintaining a fixed vanishing point. This allows us to see individual details of an object from different directions. Here we are seeing the woman from three vantage points at once. This type of symmetry is more than a simple balance in our lives. Holding the same end in a fixed state provides a symmetry of how God sees us - seeing all of a person at once - a true representation of who we really are, and what we have become. A place of worship could provide us a glimpse into such a world of how God sees us and how God views us as a complete person. Using this approach, one possible solution to a representation of heaven, would be to think of the Celestial room as the fixed vanishing point in a painting, similar to the example above. Gods' view of us is all-encompassing at once, therefore the Celestial room could provide multiple layered views of the individual progressing through life. Glimpses into the previous spaces traveled in the Temple would be provided, layered and juxtaposed to provide a complete timeline or picture of mortality, all from a single vantage point. We are then more easily able to recognize who we have become and where we have traveled, seeing our lives in an eternal context as God does.

This is an example of Symmetry in Worship.
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