LDS Standard Plans: 1958-78

The Stephens Standard Plan (780 W 500 S, Payson, UT)

In the late 50s and 60s, the LDS church began seriously introducing standardized building plans for its meetinghouses. Although the church had been selectively issuing standard plans since the 1920s, it had always hired independent architects who were given wide latitude in creative design. All that changed in the late 50s when standard plans took over most building projects and contract architects were instructed to follow the specifications much more closely. This change corresponded to the rapid growth of the church during this period as well as the increasingly correlated approach to church operation.

Complaints about the “cloning of mormon architecture” are not uncommon in the church. Yet the achievements of this period shouldn’t be overlooked. Not only are these buildings highly resilient and functional (almost all of them are still in use), they are also a testament to the talent and vision the church’s architectural department, which was able to solve problems that had beset LDS architecture for decades. For example, they perfected the silhouette of the meetinghouse, making it look like a church even with a completely modern style. They removed kitschy ornamentation and created more subtle and pleasing design features. They also used organic materials like interior brick and craftsman style woodwork to create warm and welcoming chapels. LDS architecture in this period achieved a good balance between pragmatic concerns on the one hand, and transcendent ideals on the other, a balance that is central to LDS living in general. These churches are “human” in scale: functional, inviting, and comfortable. Yet they are also “set apart,” inviting reverence and worship.

While there were hundreds of plans introduced by the church in the 60s and 70s, the vast majority of Utah meetinghouses were built on a short list of about a dozen of these standard plans. This post will take a closer look at ten of them. My guide will be Richard L. Jackson’s Places of Worship, an excellent and comprehensive account of this period in LDS architecture. Jackson was a church architect for decades and the blueprints highlighted in this post are taken from his drawings. (If you suspect that your meetinghouse might be one of these standard plans, you can easily check google maps to see if the satellite image matches one of these blueprints.)

The Baker, Alta, and Linden Standard Plans (1958-71)

Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship, pg. 331

The Baker, Alta and Linden were smaller A-framed meetinghouses. Altogether, they were built 230 times. I cover A-frame churches more comprehensively in this post.

The Fairmont Standard Plan (1962-75)

Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship, pg. 279

The Fairmont (and its predecessor, the Garfield) was a large stake center that was built 177 times. From above it looks a bit like a turtle. The earlier versions of the Fairmont had a flat roof, which was a popular midcentury design feature.

The Dalton Standard Plan (1963-68)

Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship, pg. 288

The Dalton (and its predecessor, the Freeman) was a popular mid-sized ward plan which was built 136 times. It is rectangular in shape which enabled it to be built on more narrow lots. Unlike the later rectangular models of the 80s to the present, the Dalton separated the roofs of the classrooms from roof of the central gabled chapel, thus helping the building retain its mid-century modern character.

The Youngberg Stake Center (1963-1966)

Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship, pg. 275

The Youngberg Stake Center was designed by an independent architect named Alv Youngberg. It proved so popular that it was reused 22 times and became one of the church’s standard plans. It was later taken over by the Stephens. The Youngberg contains a particularly beautiful rostrum.

The Carter Standard Plan (1965-77)

Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship, pg. 324

The Carter (and its smaller version, Liberty) was a popular mid-sized ward plan which was built 298 times. From above, the Carter looks a bit like an airplane with a single set of wings and a squarish nose.

The Stephens Standard Plan (1965-78)

Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship, pg. 334

The Stephens was another large stake center and was built 187 times. Like the Carter it is shaped like an airplane with two sets of wings spanning out from a central chapel. However, unlike the Carter, the “nose” on the airplane is tapered. 

The Bountiful Standard Plan (1969-72)

Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship, pg. 345

Originally developed by the architectural firm Carpenter and Strigham, this model was used 6 times, mostly in and around Bountiful. It is notable for its diamond shaped chapel. I was told by the former Young Women’s President Ardeth Kapp that her husband Heber Kapp had been bishop during the construction of the Canyon Park Ward meetinghouse. He made a special request to church leadership that the sacrament table be placed in the center, directly below the pulpit. It was his belief that, given the importance the sacramental ordinance, it ought to be in the center and not at the side where it is usually located.

The Inland Standard Plan (1962)

Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship, pg. 281

The Inland was only built 10 times. It contains some unique features, including Art Deco styling throughout, as well as an odd, contemporary design on the front (one that has some similarities to the Brower design that would come 15 years later.)

The modern period of LDS church architecture was exceptional in many ways. For over two decades, there were no traditional architectural motifs, not even the hint of an arch or a pilaster. This had never happened before, and it likely will never happen again. Yet, despite abandoning all traditional motifs, this period was nevertheless marked by a careful conservatism. Church architects didn’t indulge in the modernistic “space-age” style that was common among other Christian denominations of the time. They crafted a uniquely LDS style of modernism that is immediately recognizable and that has aged well. The chapel interiors of many of these standard plans have a sacred quality to them, one that succeed at balancing both the transcendent and practical ideals of the communities they serve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: