The announcement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the Provo Temple will be reconstructed has met with mixed responses.
At 50 years old, the temple has served church members in Utah Valley well and has long been touted as the busiest temple in the church. The building needs mechanical system updates, renovation of spaces to fit current needs and seismic upgrades.
Recent experience with other temples has demonstrated that renovations can be accomplished while maintaining the character of these religiously and historically significant buildings. Still, it appears that with the Provo Temple the need for renovations has become an opportunity to replace its “dated” look with something more current. I believe this treatment of a building as important as the Provo Temple deserves a second look.
First, the Provo Temple has been deeply meaningful in the lives of countless thousands of people and has become an iconic landmark in the community. We teach our children to revere the temple as a sacred place. Tens of thousands of families have been formed in the temple. Images of the temple are found in multitudes of homes and on countless gravestones as symbols of connection to God and the permanence of family relationships.
Each temple has people who feel connected to it and call it their own. However, there seems to be an assumption that this is not the case for the Provo Temple, and it is treated as disposable. Those who have promoted the plan to replace the temple are not those who are deeply connected to it, but rather those who have no attachment to it. Does it seem right that this symbol, deeply meaningful for many, should be erased when we have taken such care to preserve others?
Secondly, the Provo Temple is part of our collective history. It is a product of its time and stands as a witness to that period in church history. The temple was designed and constructed in the closing years of President David O. McKay’s life and represents his vision of an international church engaged in the modern world. The temple was designed, approved, funded and dedicated by church leaders and members who were building the temple as an offering of faith. God has seen this House of the Lord as acceptable. Should we not honor this offering rather than judge it unworthy and replace it with something we view as better?
Aesthetics seem to be a recurring topic with the Provo Temple so, when considering its future, it is helpful to remember that taste really is personal, and perception of aesthetics can shift. It is normal that buildings go through a “dated” period before being fully appreciated. Even now, many in the younger generation demonstrate a renewed appreciation of the temple’s elegant simplicity and functionality. In the past, an out-of-fashion look has not been deemed an adequate reason for destroying such a sacred building. Over time the Provo Temple will only become more revered for its interesting and unique design. At this 50-year point, do we want to destroy something that can never be brought back?
I believe that replacing the Provo Temple is unnecessary and would ultimately erode our very sense of what a temple represents. People rejoiced at its announcement. They donated toward its construction and watched it rise against the mountains. From the beginning they wove it into the fabric of their lives. The temple came to symbolize key life events and experiences. The building became deeply meaningful to us.
Regardless of how we feel about the look of the temple, it is an integral part of who we are as Latter-day Saints. There is no good time to replace the temple. With careful planning and engineering, it can be renewed just as the Jordan River, Oakland and Mesa temples have been. There is no reason it cannot continue to function along with the temples that preceded it, aging gracefully as they have been allowed to do and retaining all the meaning it has accumulated throughout our lives.
Alan Barnett, Salt Lake City, is a Provo native. He holds a master’s degree in architectural preservation and has a particular interest in religious and civic architecture.