“According to Keith Stepan (former Managing Director of Temple Construction), many LDS temples are thematic, making use of a single visual motif to unify the exterior architecture and interior design and furnishings. These unifying motifs potentially point to a particular doctrine or concept. At the Mt. Timpanogos Utah Temple, for example, we see an arching motif in the main east and west windows pointing to the theme of Jacob’s Ladder. At the San Diego Temple, 2 interlocking squares are used over 10,000 times throughout the structure, potentially symbolizing the Melchizedek Priesthood. In these and other LDS temples it is the fence design that first reveals their general visual theme.” – Val Brinkerhoff, The Day Star – Reading Sacred Architecture (Book 2), 131
In a recently published book “Sacred Walls: Learning from Temple Symbols” by Gerald E. Hansen and Val Brinkerhoff (photographer), readers are presented with a series of doctrinal themes that are explained using the particular architectural symbolism of various temples.
On the inside cover flap of the book, “Sacred Walls: Learning from Temple Symbols” it states:
Both books and buildings have voices. But rather than the letters of an alphabet, buildings use towers and spires, columns and buttresses, mosaics and paintings, glass and geometric figures, and statues and friezes to speak volumes. However, even though architectural symbolism existed before the written word, the message of a building is often difficult for most of us to recognize.
For Latter-day Saints, temples are the most important and symbolic buildings in existence. Through temples the unique doctrines of the restored gospel are communicated. Although the bulk of this instruction occurs inside the temples, temple exteriors also tell of these profound doctrines — when you understand how to read them.
I would say that all temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a theme. Some of them are more elaborate than others. Some of them try to bring out a singular thematic theme more than others. But even down to the small temples, there is specific meaning and originality of architecture that I believe is meant to teach in the same way as the most elaborately designed ones, or the ones which contain things we would recognize as potential symbols. And I believe there is something different about the construction and symbolism of every temple.
For instance, I received my own endowments in the Columbus, Ohio Temple. For those who don’t know, it is a smaller temple of the Hinckley era. On first glance it might seem like all the other small temples. But many of the windows are designed like those from the Kirtland Temple. Now, many people may just say that the architect was attempting to give the temple “local color,” or perhaps a “shout-out” to the first temple of this dispensation which happens to be located in the same state. But I think there is more to it than that. We are commanded to learn from the Lord in “All Things.” So the question becomes, “What doctrine or principle or ‘gospel theme’ can I learn from the design of the windows?” “What is the truth I can learn from this?” I’ll remind everyone that the Kirtland Temple, along with its specific design and architecture came by way of revelation. So too have all the temples that have come thereafter.
I have actually been to many of the small temples in the Church (I can remember going through at least six of them, Columbus, Detroit, Columbia, Raleigh, Palmyra, and Reno). I have never seen two exactly the same. There are always subtle differences – some greater than others.
Even with some of the bigger temples, there are perhaps fewer symbols “etched” into the facade, but the building teaches important spiritual truths in other ways which become central “themes” for that temple. Think about the design of the Provo and the before-renovated Ogden Temples (for better or for worse, #Birthdaycake, #Spaceship). One of the things it is/was meant to symbolize was the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night that lead the ancient Israelites, which in turn has its own symbolic meaning(s).
The last comment I have concerns temples that may seem “simple” on the outside, but actually, in my opinion, carry equal truth waiting to be discovered for those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel. For example, I was married in the Manti Temple. You won’t see anything in the way of moon stones or symbols potentially representing the Seal of Melchizedek. But there are other mysteries waiting to be discovered. Lots of them. Sometimes I think the question should be asked, “why is something NOT there?” Why ISN”T this as ornate as some of the others.” I could go into a huge discourse here, but I’ll save some server space.
I’ll close by giving the video “Reading Temples” by Steven Reed two huge thumbs up. Everyone should watch it if you haven’t already. It is one of the things I first came to really enjoy about what Steven Reed does in his study of LDS symbology. I think it was this video which actually led me to his blog. It’s a great video and teaches how to begin developing one’s spiritual eyes.