Project Church of Latter-day Saints’ Provo Stake Tabernacle
Architect and Interior Designer FFKR team – Roger P. Jackson,
David Brenchley, Mark Chad Wightman, Merrill Ballantyne, Jim Moore,
M. Scott Woodruff, Gustavo Zamora, Marty Pierson, Summer Findlay
Structural Engineer Reaveley Engineers + Associates
For over a century, The Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Provo Stake Tabernacle had been an integral part of the community of Provo, Utah.
The Gothic Revival-style building, which was designed by Latter-day Saint architect William H. Folsom and features an enormous pipe organ, was the venue for special events ranging from concerts and performances to graduation convocations.
When an electrical fire collapsed the roof and gutted the interior in 2010, the church decided not only to rebuild it but also to convert it into a temple.
“We started working on it two days after the fire,” says Roger P. Jackson, FAIA, LEED AP, who is a senior principal architect of Salt Lake City-based FFKR, which has designed and built a dozen Latter-day Saints temples and other Mormon church buildings. “It was a challenge in every aspect because we had to build a new function inside a historic building shell that was consistent and compatible with the original architecture.”
The conversion of the 93,000-square-foot tabernacle, which was comprised of a single large hall and a horseshoe-shaped balcony, took six years and a lot of ingenious design work.
The design of the Provo City Center Temple is solidly based on historical architectural precedent.
In addition to cataloging and studying items salvaged from the fire, the FFKR team looked at other Folsom buildings, including the Manti Utah Temple. It also drew inspiration from the Gardo House in Salt Lake City, the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City and the Utah State Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City.
“We asked ourselves: What would Folsom have done?” Jackson says. “We wanted whatever we did to feel and be compatible with the time of the original building. We wanted it to fit and feel period appropriate.”
The orange-brick structure, which is defined by a quartet of octagonal towers and a slate roof, was shored up structurally.
“Originally, there was a central tower,” Jackson says. “It was removed in 1915 when the ceiling structure started to sag. Using vintage photos and 3D modeling software, we recreated it to within an inch.”
One other element was added to the exterior: a 19th-century-style gazebo.
“We couldn’t fit the entire program inside the building,” Jackson says. “Every temple has a separate waiting room for those who are not members in good standing or who are visitors or who are too young to enter. So we designed a glass gazebo and sited it outside.”
The tabernacle’s original stained-glass windows, which were installed in 1917, were replicated based on comprehensive photographic documentation completed some 15 years before the fire.
“They are deliberately Gothic in design with a floral flourish, candle flames, shields, open books and beehives,” Jackson says, adding that the art glass window in the lobby depicts Christ the Good Shepherd. “The interior glass is lighter in color, slightly more transparent and a bit more sparkly.”
Temples feature numerous rooms, so the FFKR team decided to split the interior space into two floors to accommodate all of them and to add a 136,000-square-foot underground parking garage, a godsend on a small city site.
“The interior details reflect the eclectic design of the original tabernacle,” Jackson says, adding that mahogany and walnut were chosen to emulate the faux-painted woods in the tabernacle. “Eastlake details on the lower and main level of the temple transition to more Victorian Gothic details on the upper level.”
Materials, finishes and colors also follow Victorian style rules.
“The furniture—there are 884 pieces—was custom made,” Jackson says, adding that 70 percent was created by Utah craftsmen. “The designs were inspired by antiques and other historical documents from the time era. The paint colors reflect common colors used in the tabernacle as well as popular colors in 1880s Utah.”
In the new configuration, the basement has a baptistry that borrows details from the Gardo House, separate locker “changing” rooms for men and women and a bride’s room for pre-ceremony primping.
“The art glass skylight in the bride’s room has a floral pattern,” Jackson says. “The decorative paint frieze of swags and flowers on the walls was found in the ruins of the priesthood room in the burned-out building.”
The first level has a waiting chapel and a first instruction room; the second level features the second instruction room, the celestial room and the sealing room.
A grand staircase, which Jackson says “is part of the experience of moving through the space,” connects the levels and syncs historical styles.
The details for its newel posts and balusters come from the stairs and railings in the historic tabernacle; the “bullseye” motif on the stair stringer is from the original balcony railing; and the newel post at the bottom of the stair is derived from those in Folsom’s Manti Temple.
The staircase’s wood-paneled ceiling, Jackson adds, was inspired by the Utah State Governor’s Mansion and several images in Victorian architecture reference books.
The Columbine flower, which is native to the Utah mountains, was used as a recurring motif throughout the temple.
“It’s beautiful in life but difficult to represent,” Jackson says. “The blossoms have five primary petals and five secondary petals that were abstracted to a double star. We used it in many places, including carved features in the furniture.”
The Provo City Center Temple, one of only two in the city, has been well received.
“It has a great character and comfortable spirit that people have embraced,” he says.
He adds that he’s happy the church decided to preserve the original structure, a far more costly undertaking than razing it and replacing it.
The membership apparently agrees with his assessment.
“The temple fills a need in the community,” Jackson says. “It’s busy; it fills up. It’s a place where people want to go. People drive past other closer temples just to see this one.”