The San Diego LDS Temple: A Case Study

Yesterday, I wrote that the upcoming LDS temple in downtown Provo, as well as the nearly-opened convention center, may “contain” people rather than disperse them into the surrounding community. The idea is that as wonderful as these additions to downtown may be on their own, they also ought to benefit the area economically.

It’s also the responsibility of city leaders to ensure that new development meets the needs of the community as well as those of the property owner. In other words, the interests of city leadership and the interests of the LDS Church are very different, though not necessarily contradictory.

But exactly what sort of development will benefit downtown?

That’s a complicated question, but existing developments offer examples of success and failure. As I also mentioned yesterday, I traveled to San Diego this last weekend. During that trip I visited the LDS Church’s San Diego temple. Though that temple is much beloved by many Mormons for its general aesthetics, as an engine for economic growth it’s an utter failure. Furthermore, it’s campus also fails as a gathering space and park; really it’s only “good” for taking wedding pictures.*

Below I’ve included a few pictures that illustrate some of the design failures of this striking building. Or course, it also does some things well, but for now I’m going to focus on the lessons Provo can learn from its inadequacies.

One of the greatest failings of the San Diego Temple — and this applies to most LDS temples that I've seen — is that it's surrounded by a large imposing wall. In this case, the wall is so big that passersby can barely even see the temple. I've heard some people argue that temples need these walls to protect them. However, I've never seen a cathedral surrounded by a wall and they typically seem to do just fine (at least today). And in any case, these walls discourage cross-traffic between temple grounds and surrounding areas.

As this pictures shows, there was virtually no foot traffic on the streets surrounding the temple. The entire time we were there, people only walked from their cars to the temple and on-campus lawns.

The San Diego Temple is surrounded by parking lots. (It's also located beside the freeway, which suggests a kind of big-box mentality behind its design). Surrounding a structure like this with parking lots is a mistake — aesthetically, economically, environmentally, etc. — that Provo cannot afford to make.

This is Laura after we spent 20 minutes looking for a trash can. One of the more curious failures of these temple grounds is that there are no trash cans anywhere. Whether intentional or not, that discourages people from basic activities like picnicking — which are an integral part of downtown Provo's open spaces. Indeed the San Diego temple grounds seem to be designed more like a movie set than an inviting park-like space; they look good in carefully posed pictures, but they aren't somewhere you might spend a couple of hours eating lunch or relaxing.

The result of no trash cans: garbage gets left lying around. The lesson here is that Provo's downtown temple campus needs to invite use for a variety of purposes, not just wedding picture-taking, because that will generate more economic development and because that is the way the grounds have been used in the past. If the new temple grounds become sequestered and sanitized like the grounds in these pictures, they will actively repel people from downtown.

* Opinions on the aesthetics of this temple are divided. I’ve heard it cited as one of the most beautiful LDS Temples ever built. Since the rise of the so-called “princess culture,” that attitude has only seemed to grow. However, there are others who believe this temple visually works only from a distance and that it’s actually rather awkward. However, this post is not an architectural or design review of the temple. It’s merely trying to assess the economic interaction between the temple’s design elements and the surrounding community.

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6 Comments

Filed under Development, Downtown, Mormon, Provo Tabernacle

6 responses to “The San Diego LDS Temple: A Case Study

  1. Matthew Taylor

    Interestingly, I found very few trash cans in London, yet the city was basically clean. I actually found myself carrying my trash around for an hour before I found a place to dispose of it. Maybe it has to do with the attitude of the society; I don’t really know though.

  2. Matthew Taylor

    Another thought though: This is a suburban temple built in a suburban neighborhood meant to serve a widely distributed suburban population. Therefore it is designed appropriately for its context. This temple would never work well in an urban environment. Even the Salt Lake Temple has doors facing the street as if you were supposed to walk up into it. The Tabernacle Temple will be the same. You can’t even see the front door from the street at the San Diego Temple.

    Here’s a question: Has the Church done any urban temples well? My gut reaction is they treat most urban temples like suburban ones. A good recent example of this would be the Ogden Temple reconstruction. I don’t think they have the vocabulary to deal with the different context.

  3. Matthew, all good points. I agree that this (san diego) is a suburban temple in a suburban area, so the comparison only goes so far. But I think your point that the church treats urban temples as suburban ones is also right on; my hope is that that doesn’t happen here, though you may be right that they simply don’t have the vocabulary for that.

    The church has done urban temples in NYC and Hong Kong, though I’ve never visited either of those temples. However, I think the LA temple isn’t a bad comparison, or at least it’s better than San Diego, because the surrounding area isn’t as urban as downtown NYC or SLC, but it’s more urban than the areas around most temples. In that case, though, the temple still feels suburban (and of course LA is generally a very suburban city).

    Also, fyi, these pictures were taken in the middle of the day last Saturday. I arrived around 10 am, and left around 1:30, so they were all taken between those times.

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