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The Provo Utah Edgemont Stake Center, dedicated in 1990, was one of more than 8,000 Church buildings constructed between 1948 and 1990. Courtesy Doug Martin.
by Paul L. Anderson and Richard H. Jackson
Throughout its history the Church has faced the challenge of providing adequate buildings to serve its growing membership for worship and for cultural, educational, and recreational activities. The "building program" is the term given to the Church's system of central direction, design, and financing for the construction of meetinghouses and temples throughout the world. Under the direction of the First Presidency and Presiding Bishopric, a professional staff headquartered in Salt Lake City creates standard building plans and specifications, and establishes procedures for construction and expenditures. Although this program has been extensively developed in the years since World War II, some central direction and planning have existed from the Church's beginnings.
The Church's first two important buildings, the temples at Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois, were both projects initiated, financed, and supervised by general Church leaders. Members throughout the Church contributed money, and many local Saints contributed every tenth day's labor. Some young men were called for full-time work, and more experienced craftsmen were employed at subsistence wages paid from contributed funds. Similar procedures were followed for the never-completed Nauvoo House and, after the move west, the Salt Lake Temple and Tabernacle.
As Church membership grew and dispersed throughout hundreds of settlements in the West, design and construction of meetinghouses, stake tabernacles, Church schools, and other buildings became a local responsibility. In many cases, Church Presidents or other general leaders encouraged such projects, and occasionally provided designs and financial assistance, but usually the responsibility for raising funds and supervising construction remained with local ecclesiastical officers.
In 1923 the Church Architectural Department in Salt Lake City began furnishing plans for meetinghouses and seminary buildings throughout the Church. Over the next decade, about 350 meetinghouses and 35 seminary buildings were constructed from these plans, most of them red-brick buildings in an adaptation of colonial style. Willard Young, a son of Brigham Young, directed the department, with architect Joseph Don Carlos Young, another son, providing most of the plans. Non-Mormon architects also provided plans for more than 185 buildings during this period, mostly outside of Utah. Funding and construction remained a local responsibility, except for about 50 buildings that received some Church support. This department ceased providing plans around 1933, and local congregations again became responsible for the design of their own buildings, with only general direction from the department.
The decades following the Great Depression and World War II left the Church with pressing needs for many new meetinghouses, because of unprecedented growth, particularly outside the Great Basin. The Church Building Committee, led by Howard J. McKean, was organized in 1946 to fill these needs. The program began with a ratio of 40 percent general Church financing and 60 percent raised locally, but within a few years this ratio changed in most cases to 50-50. Under this program, the Church Building Department supervised the preparation of building plans by independent architects. The local bishop or branch president became the contractor for each project, working with an experienced construction foreman, usually a local member. Local congregations contributed as much labor and skill as possible. The value of their work was credited toward their share of the building cost, usually not more than 10 percent of the total. The local branch or ward was required to raise half of its share of the cost before construction could begin, and all of it before completion. If the cash flow stopped, construction stopped. More than 630 meetinghouses were built between 1945 and 1955 following this procedure, with few delays because of funding. In Utah and most other areas of the United States, these red-brick colonial buildings with white steeples became prominent features of the landscape. After 1950, various standard architectural plans were also provided for seminary and institute buildings.
By the early 1950s the growth of the Church in the South Pacific created need for meetinghouses and schools in areas where money and skilled labor were in short supply. In 1954, Church leaders, including the new Building Committee chairman, Wendell Mendenhall, responded with a building missionary program. Members with construction skills were called to oversee projects in Polynesia. Supervisors took their families with them and received living allowances. They were to train and supervise young building missionaries and other local volunteers while they built the buildings. This program began with the construction of the Church college and temple in New Zealand. In 1956 it expanded to provide meetinghouses and schools throughout the South Pacific and Australia, using plans sent from Salt Lake City. In 1960-1961 the program extended to meetinghouses in the British Isles and continental Europe, with offices in England, Holland, and Germany. Because of differences in language and building procedures in these countries, local architects prepared plans based on standard guidelines. In 1962 the building missionary program was extended to the Far East, Latin America, the United States, and Canada. Difficulties in supervision and financial management caused the discontinuance of this program in 1965. More than 2,000 buildings were constructed under this system.
In the late 1950s, increased construction in the United States and Canada led to the creation of four area offices within the Building Department in Salt Lake City, each supervising property acquisitions, plan refinement, construction, and financial management of projects within a geographical area. These area offices have been divided and extended through the years to include other countries as well. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, building plans evolved toward more diversified styles.
In 1965 a new Church Building Committee, under the chairmanship of Mark B. Garff, instituted more centralized control of the building program. The headquarters office continued to prepare detailed standardized plans and specifications, including color schemes and landscape designs, for virtually all new buildings. Local architects were retained for each project to help in preparing site plans, obtaining competitive bids and building permits, and overseeing construction. In 1978 the Real Estate, Building, and Operations and Maintenance divisions were combined into the Department of Physical Facilities, with Fred A. Baker as managing director. Area offices were expanded, increased in number, extended worldwide, and placed under the direction of General Authorities assigned as area presidencies in 1984, with many offices moved to the regions they served. Plans for meetinghouses were still produced in the headquarters office in Salt Lake City and distributed through these offices. The ratio of Church to local financial participation in building projects changed over these years, to 70-30 in 1960, to 96-4 in 1982, and to 100-0 in 1990. In the United States, nearly all construction is performed by contractors, while in some other countries local members still contribute some labor. Where practical, meetinghouses are shared by two or more wards or branches.
The building of temples throughout the world has remained under the close supervision of the First Presidency. The Temples and Special Projects Division of the Building Department (later the Department of Physical Facilities) in Salt Lake City began supervising the preparation of plans and construction of temples throughout the world in 1965. In 1983 the design of temple standard plans was transferred to the Architectural and Engineering Division. In most cases, local architects have been retained to adapt these standard designs to local conditions and styles and to aid in supervising bidding and construction.
The centrally directed building program has been one of the largest and most costly programs of the Church. While the high degree of central control and standardization may have discouraged architectural innovation and flexibility in meeting local circumstances, the system has provided consistent guidelines and orderly procedures for an enormous undertaking. Between 1948 and 1990, it directed the construction of more than 8,500 buildings, supporting and aiding the growth and development of the Church around the world.
Allen, James B., and Glen M. Leonard. The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, 1976.
Cowan, Richard O. The Church in the Twentieth Century. Salt Lake City, 1985.
Cummings, David W. Mighty Missionary of the Pacific. Salt Lake City, 1961.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1, Building Program
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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