The Redesigned Provo Utah Temple Marks the End of an Era

Image: Intellectual Reserve
Farewell, alleged cloud and pillar of fire. Hello, anonymous modernism.

At the conclusion of the October 2021 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson announced a handful of new temples (many of which we, ahem, predicted), but he also noted that the Provo Utah Temple would be reconstructed once the Orem Utah Temple was dedicated. At the time, many Latter-day Saints speculated whether that meant a long-term rebuild and refurb, a la the Salt Lake Temple or perhaps the Washington DC Temple, or a full-blown redo, similar to what happened to the Ogden Utah Temple over 10 years ago.

We have our answer, and it’s the latter. The Church has released a rendering of the “redesigned” Provo Utah Temple. While the announcement is bereft of additional details, including dates, the layout and size of the temple, etc., it does appear this will be a wholesale replacement of the existing Provo temple and not just a reskinning. The temple location will remain the same.

Reactions will surely be mixed about this announcement. Few wept when the Ogden Utah Temple went from its 1970s “birthday cake” glory to a classic modern design. And downtown Ogden, an area we will generously describe as “iffy,” needed a new project to help revitalize it. (You’ve seen a similar approach to revamping the Mesa Arizona Temple and its campus.) You can read some history on the design of the original Ogden and Provo temples here.

Ogden Utah Temple before and after | Image: Deseret News

But Provo is not Ogden. The Provo temple sits adjacent to the Missionary Training Center up a gentle grade, with the dramatic view of Rock Canyon behind it. The building, for all its extremely dated appearance, remains an icon of the region, plainly visible from Interstate 15 as one approaches Provo,  and is now the lone representative of its era after the “demise” of Ogden. Many temple architecture enthusiasts hoped that despite its dated design, the temple would remain as a piece of Latter-day Saint history, even if recent events have shown us no degree of temple history is above reproach.

So we’re going from this:

Image: Intellectual Reserve

To this:

Image: Intellectual Reserve

It has a little bit of character, but looks mostly like a tweaked version of the Orem temple with a cooler backdrop.

One might ask why such a move is necessary. Is it about space? The Provo Utah Temple currently covers over 128,000 square feet, far larger than the 70,000-80,000 square foot temples currently under construction in Utah. It’s the fifth-largest temple in the Church. Is it about efficiency? That was the argument for gutting the Manti Utah Temple and redesigning the interior. But the Provo temple is one of the few in the Church with six ordinance rooms surrounding a central celestial room, similar to Jordan River and Washington, DC. This design, while denying the celestial room any natural light, is extremely efficient for the number of sessions available throughout the day. It’s hard to imagine a new design that could improve upon that level of efficiency unless the temple was large enough to have eight ordinance rooms (unlikely) that would still surround a windowless celestial room (highly unlikely – we dig our natural light nowadays).

President Nelson has not publicly stated the purpose behind the reconstruction of the temple, nor has the Newsroom offered additional insights. The Provo temple is famously busy due to its location in an area already dense with Church members, plus Brigham Young University students, plus missionaries at the MTC. But again, if capacity and efficiency are issues, it is difficult to see how a rebuild will improve upon what is already there.

Maybe it’s about aesthetics? Is this really about simply having a more modern building? Is this move with the hope aspirant newlyweds will actually get married in the Provo temple, a building that surely sees its share of weddings, but—at least anecdotally—is famously not the first choice for couples, a situation likely exacerbated by the stunning Provo City Center Temple stealing the charm across town?

The temple underwent a foundation renovation a few years ago, but it was hardly at the scale of what we are seeing with the Salt Lake Temple. Perhaps it was a stop-gap measure and won’t provide enough seismic protection for the upper floors into the future, and the easiest move at this stage is to start over.

Lastly, maybe this is actually about downsizing. With temples going up in Orem, Lindon, and now Heber Valley, even with so much demand placed upon it, perhaps Provo simply doesn’t need to be as large as it currently is — despite the new design appearing far more imposing than the current one.

One thing we feel somewhat safe in assuming: the new temple is bound to get two baptistries, a growing trend in Utah temples, and particularly worthwhile for a temple that serves a large student population using what we no longer call “limited-use” recommends.

Also worth noting: the temple is just under 50 years old, and the Church actually uses 50 years as a milestone to consider a temple “historic.” Does that mean it is added to a list of structures mandated to be preserved? Not necessary, but getting in under the wire like that might actually avoid some internal bureaucratic triggers that are more easily avoided than engaged.

The Church News argues the lack of a Moroni statue for aesthetic reasons, but ditching Moroni is also the norm nowadays. It’s worth noting the Provo temple only received its statue of Moroni in 2003.

Regardless of the rationale, which we have to accept we may never know, the end of the Provo Utah Temple as we know it marks a point where the Church formally turns away from two of its iconic—if dated—temple designs in favor of something more generic and palatable. It will also leave the Washington DC and Sao Paulo Brazil temples as the only true relics of the 1970s.

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