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Permanent, Solid, Dignified

The Innovative Design of the Cardston Alberta Temple

The Cardston Alberta Temple was the first constructed by the Church in the 20th century. Unlike temples previously built, the Cardston Temple did not require a large assembly room or tall spires. Eliminating these elements resulted in reduced construction costs and led to a new era of temple construction, bringing the Church architecturally into the modern age.

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Harold W. Burton, one of the architects of the Cardston Temple, is third from the left.

Architects Harold Burton and Hyrum Pope drew their inspiration from famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose designs “were bold in form, original in their geometric decorative details, and carefully blended with their natural surroundings.”1 They were particularly influenced by Wright’s Unity Church in Oak Park, Illinois. Pope and Burton also looked to ancient ruins found in Mexico and Central America: In a letter dated May 20, 1969, Burton wrote, “I was also much interested in the pre-Columbian architectural work ... principally Mayan.” He went on to say that these and other studies “no doubt had their influence on my architectural career.”2

In discussing the innovative design of the Cardston Temple, Paul Anderson wrote:

To say that the temple was influenced by the work of other architects does not imply that it was lacking in originality. Indeed, Pope’s and Burton’s great achievement was their ability to use the newest and best design ideas in a way that was particularly appropriate for a Latter-day Saint temple. Since the new temple was to have neither a large assembly room nor towers like previous temples, a completely new arrangement had to be worked out.3

Burton and Pope also took great care to ensure that the design complemented the landscape. Placed on a small hill and surrounded by prairie, “the temple appeared equally strong, well proportioned, and handsome from all angles.”4 Like other temples, the Cardston Temple possesses “the same feeling of permanence, solidity, and dignity that had characterized all of the earlier temples,” even though its modern style is a vast contrast to temples previously built by the Church.5

The interior of the temple is strongly influenced by the arts and crafts philosophy of design, in that the plans called for a “harmonious integration of structure and furnishing.”6 Burton and Pope recruited artists to work on the interior decoration of the building, personally chose the temple's interior colors and schemes, and designed most of the fixtures. 

The interior woodwork is another impressive feature of the temple. One writer noted that "each of the ordinance rooms ... is decorated with different inlaid and panelled hardwoods, which include oak, birdseye maple, South American walnut, African mahogany, rosewood and ebony. There is a hierarchal order in the use of the woods, so that the decoration begins in the lower rooms with small panels of simply grained, light-coloured woods and culminates in the Celestial room with large and elaborate panels of the richest woods."7

Five Latter-day Saint artists were selected to paint murals in the ordinance rooms. LeConte Stewart, who was in his late 20s at the time, painted the murals and supervised the decorative work in the creation room. These murals were similar in style to the works of the French impressionists. Lee Greene Richards, who had been one of Stewart’s teachers, worked in the garden room. His work “recalled some elements of art nouveau.”8 Murals in the terrestrial room and smaller paintings in the chapel were done by A.B. Wright, a contemporary of Richards. Artwork in the world room was painted by Edwin Evans, an established artist and mentor of Richards and Wright. A fifth artist, sculptor Torlief Knaphus, sculpted the oxen upon which the baptismal font rests, as well as an exterior bas-relief on the front of the temple that depicts the Savior and the woman at the well.

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Bas-relief on exterior of Cardston Temple.

The architectural plan for the Cardston Temple was indeed a radical shift in temple design. The temple's “compact pyramidal composition of interlocking geometric shapes” forms a centralized Greek cross.9 At the center are the celestial room and baptismal area. The other ordinance rooms are placed around the core, extending out to the four points of the compass, with each room placed half a story higher than the one before, giving a sense of upward progression to the celestial room. With this design, there was no discernable front to the building. With renovations in subsequent years, the west side became the main entrance and front of the temple.

Footnotes

[1] Paul L. Anderson, “First of the Modern Temples,” Ensign, July 1977, 9–10.

[2] Harold W. Burton to Randolph W. Lineham, May 20, 1969, Church History Library.

[3] Anderson, “First of the Modern Temples,” 10.

[4] Anderson, “First of the Modern Temples,” 10.

[5] Anderson, “First of the Modern Temples,” 10.

[6] Jacqueline Hucker, “Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cardston, Alberta,” Agenda Paper, Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Church History Library (MS 14489), 169.

[7] Jacqueline Hucker, “Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cardston, Alberta,” 169.

[8] Anderson, “First of the Modern Temples,” 10.

[9] Jacqueline Hucker, “Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cardston, Alberta,” 165.