Do Mormons Care About Modern Architecture?

January 10, 2005 | 69 comments
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Last month’s issue of Dwell, a shelter/design magazine, featured a cover story about a gorgeous modernist home in Salt Lake City’s Emigration Canyon (pictured below). I hadn’t heard much about modernism in Utah, so I was excited to see how the writer would frame the story and contextualize her account of the home. She took the easy way out, for the most part. Jespersen residence Salt Lake is “a place not renowned for progressive architecture” (outside Berlin, New York, and Chicago, what is?), the temple’s “finial spires create an imposing presence” (for a modernist, that’s an insult, I think), and “the natural beauty offers considerable consolation for living in a place with a reputation for cultural homogeneity” (nice of her to see the bright side of an otherwise dismal existence).

But overall it’s an interesting article that provides some background on modernism in Salt Lake. (Seems that a disciple of Mies Van Der Rohe, John Sugden, taught at the University of Utah for 25 years and designed many residential and other buildings, including the U’s Merrill Engineering building.) It also led me to wonder how the average Mormon views modern architecture. Then in this month’s issue, the issue was teed up perfectly in the letter to the editor section:

As a native Utahan and a longtime admirer of the simple beauty and clean lines of modern architecture, I enjoyed your article highlighting the Jespersen residence. However, I was disappointed by your assumptions regarding Mormons. I am proud to be a so-called Mormon, especially one who embraces modern architecture. Next time I hope you can lay aside the sweeping generalizations and understand that not all Mormons are stuffy, uncreative people with a lack of appreciation for good style. Thanks again for a great article and an innovative magazine that even a Mormon can appreciate!
–Mia Chapman
Salt Lake City

The author of the article responded, “In no way was I trying to make any correlation between the practice of Mormonism and propensity toward, or aversion to, modern design. . . .”

So I bring this question to all of you. Is there a Mormon propensity toward, or aversion to, modern design or architecture? If there is a real, even if unconscious, aversion, is this simply a reflection of the more general middle class American hesitation toward the aesthetics of modernism, or does it have a more-or-less Mormon source? I tend to think that caring about architecture (or, more precisely, acting on that care) is simply a luxury that most people cannot afford, but is there something more to it in this instance? And since when did “Utahn” become “Utahan”?

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69 Responses to Do Mormons Care About Modern Architecture?

  1. Wilfried on January 10, 2005 at 3:00 pm

    I like this topic, Greg! Owning a modernist home in Antwerp (built in 1992), we have wondered why there are so few in Utah. But “a Mormon propensity toward, or aversion to, modern design or architecture”? Well, look at the design of our temples. Already in the 70s the Provo temple was a daring concept here. Think of the Washington temple. So at the top archictectural level of the Church, there is innovation, there is creative, new design. As to family homes, modernist does not have to mean more expensive per se. Who would be design architects in Utah for modernist homes? Any recommendations?

  2. lyle on January 10, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    I don’t know what qualifies as modernist; but I’d love to buy/build a ‘modern’ home out of pre-fab units and/or shipping containers.

  3. J. Stapley on January 10, 2005 at 3:35 pm

    Salt Lake is “a place not renowned for progressive architecture� (outside Berlin, New York, and Chicago, what is?),

    Having meandered through the bulk of Chicago’s suburbs, I can attest that the vast majority of the homes are of the generic sort and not “modernist” at all. I think that your observation of luxury are astute. As much as I would love a modernist home, I’m stretched as it is to afford a generic home in the suburbs of Seattle.

  4. Greg on January 10, 2005 at 3:54 pm

    Wilfried,

    I’m glad to see someone is interested in this topic, and I am not too surprised it is a European. It seems to me that a love of modernism in the United States is almost exclusive confined to the upper middle class and up. But in my (admittedly limited) time in Europe, I noticed that folks from all walks of life had more of an attraction to modern design. I have heard some armchair theorizing that this is the result of Europe’s age and America’s youth: Because Europe is so secure in a rich architectural heritage going back centuries, people are more willing to try progressive architecture and design; whereas Americans are constantly striving to create the rich architectural heritage they don’t have, and they do so by copying old European forms: neoclassical, Victorian, Tudor, etc., rather than modern ones. I don’t know about this, but there may be something to it.

    I do agree with you that the Church itself has been fairly daring in its temple architecture. I’m one of the few who like the modernist Manhattan temple (though I am informed that this was required by the zoning laws, and was not a Church decision). I also think you are right that modernist residential homes are not necessarily more expensive in theory. But developers don’t build modern tracts anymore because of the lack of mass appeal, so there are less modernist houses out there, driving up the price. Here in California there a lot more modernist homes in the post-war suburbs than in Utah (this is where Eichler did most of his work), but they still command a bit of a premium.

    As for modernist architects in Utah, the magazine article I mentioned has some names, but I have no experience with Utah architects.

    Lyle: Pre-fabricated housing, including houses built from shipping containers, seems to be one of the hot trends is modern architecture. Check out fabprefab.com. And here’s an article from the Times on a container house: http://tinyurl.com/5vvas

  5. Bill on January 10, 2005 at 4:06 pm

    The exterior of the Manhattan temple is only superficially changed since the building’s construction in the 1970s, so the building may not be representative of the latest trends in church architecture which seem to be less adventurous than they were several decades ago. Perhaps this is because of cost concerns?

  6. Rosalynde Welch on January 10, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    IKEA may be doing something to make modern design more accessible and appealing outside the elite. It has its faults of course–quality perhaps being one of them–but I for one count myself a fan. I wonder how an IKEA would do in Utah?

  7. Wilfried on January 10, 2005 at 4:41 pm

    Indeed, Greg, I would concur that in Europe, certainly among a portion of the population, the tendency towards modernism is outspoken — and has been so for decades, following various trends in modernism, where open space, pure lines and light are the main characteristics. Tourists want to see the “old Europe” and the tourist industry makes sure that is on the tour list. On the other hand, there is of course also, among another part of the population, the taste for the rustic, cosy “fermettes” (little farm-like houses), reminding people of a by-gone era of cosiness in little rooms and darker corners.

    I think we should also point at the influence of the Walt-Disney-style, mostly Victorian, immensely popularized through books and movies, which may be an important factor in the formation of the taste of a lot of people: the houses immortalized in Mary Poppins, The Lady and the Tramp, The 101 Dalmatians… have placed in many minds this picture of the “ideal” home. It seems that that style permeates a lot of American houses — at least when we look around here in Utah.

    Bill, you raise an interesting point: “the latest trends in church architecture which seem to be less adventurous than they were several decades ago”. That seems to be true. The 70s and 80s saw some amazing designs, while the new series of temples seems to follow a pretty standard pattern. Maybe a new generation of architects working for the Church or, as you suggest, mainly out of cost concern?

  8. Adam Greenwood on January 10, 2005 at 4:47 pm

    As Greg points out, modernist homes will be more expensive even if the do not ‘intrinsically’ cost more.

    And because they are not to the popular taste, they will not resale as well. Ergo, modernist housing is a luxury good.

    A question for you all: does it matter whether there is a Mormon liking or disliking for moderist buildings?

  9. Clark on January 10, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    There’s actually a fair bit of modernist and quasi-modernist archetecture up around the Park City area.

  10. William Morris on January 10, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    “If there is a real, even if unconscious, aversion, is this simply a reflection of the more general middle class American hesitation toward the aesthetics of modernism, or does it have a more-or-less Mormon source?”

    Naturally, I think that the answer is that it’s more a reflection of middle class America even as I try to maintain some slight Mormon-centric view of Mormons and kitsch.

    —-
    Adam:

    It’s part of the whole project of Mormonism and aesthetics. It matters insofar as teasing out the relationship between Mormons and aesthetics is an important part in understanding the way Mormon art is produced, consumed and critiqued as well as the relationship between Mormonism and American culture.

  11. Greg on January 10, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    Rosalynde,

    Thanks for mentioning IKEA. When we lived in New York, we would take the subway to Penn Station, then take a bus to the IKEA in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and then haul all of our loot — chairs and all — back to city with great difficulty. When I moved here (Oakland), I was thrilled to see I’m ten minutes from an IKEA — we’re there all the time. IKEA is actually doing what modernism originally intended to do: use new materials (e.g. bent plywood) and mass production methods to make well-designed, practical stuff affordable to all. And I think it is working to educate people’s tastes toward the modernist aesthetic. But most people still seem to think that IKEA is for students or young people, and they want to “graduate” to Pottery Barn or Ethan Allen or something. Still, I think IKEA would do great in Utah, just as it has in every other city it has entered. Another company that is promoting modernism for the masses is Design Within Reach (dwr.com), but as everyone jokes, their prices are not really “within reach.”

  12. Jeremy on January 10, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    More about design/decorating than architecture, but I seem to recall a talk or article by Boyd K. Packer (I think) in which he encouraged members to decorate their homes in “homey” ways, rather than in austere, minimal, modernist fashions. As no fan of the prevailing country kitchen/tutti dot aesthetic, I found this counsel a bit odd. I think he may have even used the words “modernist” or “minimalist,” but I can’t recall. I’ll see if I can dig it up. Anybody else remember this?

  13. Steve Evans on January 10, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    There’s no IKEA in UT?? Wow. That’s it — I’m staying in NYC after all.

  14. Rusty on January 10, 2005 at 5:09 pm

    Adam, yes it does matter. I often wonder what Brigham Young would think of our current state of archetecture (especially of the temples, with all their lack of visual symbols). He didn’t send architects to Europe to find out how to make a cheaper temple. Design is important.

    The kind of architecture that pervades Utah (and most of suburban America) is a style just as much as modernism is a style. Just because it’s what we are used to it doesn’t mean it’s the best or most beautiful design, it’s not a standard to which everything should be judged.

    One of the principle virtues of modern architecture is that context is considered. Surrounding landscape, colors, textures, etc. are taken into account when designed. Much more in harmony to what I imagine God’s home being like than the scrapbook, toll-painted house designs that we are so used to.

    Jeremy, I just don’t pay heed to some General Authorities like Elder Packer.

  15. Mark B on January 10, 2005 at 5:10 pm

    Since Summit County is the fastest growing non-LDS part of the state, it’s likely that the homes around Park City reflect anything about Mormon architectural tastes.

    The rich out there seem merely to think that bigger is better, and if you can put a pool and a racquetball court and a scrapbooking room into the pile, so much the better.

  16. Greg on January 10, 2005 at 5:11 pm

    Jeremy,

    I also have a vague recollections of an apostle, probably Elder Packer, mentioning that modern homes with open floor plans are not ideal for raising a family. I think modernism can definitely be family friendly (though the corners on those Barcelona chairs are vicious), and in some ways is more conducive to family life — and neighborhood life — than, say, the much-maligned McMansions.

  17. Clark on January 10, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    Actually I think there is a lot of fantastic architecture around Park City, along with some pretty impressive show homes by various housing material companies. (One was shown this year on This Old House)

    While Park City has its fair share of non-Mormons, there really are a lot. Same with various other exclusive areas such as Emigration Canyon, Hobble Creek Canyon and so forth. Yeah, there’s always a few goofy ones, but if you drive around there are some great homes.

    I’ve noticed that while some people simply build as big of a house as they can fit on a lot – often with horrible mixture of styles or the “straight box” style, there are also some real nice ones.

  18. Julie in Austin on January 10, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    I’d love to see a cite on #16, because my sense is just the opposite. Many separate rooms tend to divorce the family into very independent endeavors, but open plans keep everyone together and at least occasionally communicating.

  19. Philocrites on January 10, 2005 at 5:52 pm

    “Utahan” was the old accepted news style for “Utahn” until enough Utahns complained that no one in Utah used that spelling! (I recall Orrin Hatch being involved in the New York Times’s decision, or maybe it was the Associated Press’s, to use “Utahn” instead.) I’ve been surprised recently by its resurgence.

  20. Wilfried on January 10, 2005 at 5:59 pm

    In our experience a home with one large open space for the living quarters, as in most modernist homes, i.e. where living room, dining room, kitchen, office or working corner(s) form a whole and the family members are nearly always in close contact to each other, even if they are in a different “room”, is conducive to family life (like we have in our Belgian home). It avoids the creation of independent units where family members are confined for hours. Indeed, homes with separate rooms for the above mentioned functions may sometimes fractionize the family in their respective activities (like we experience in our home in Utah).

    Of course, this also raises the question of family traditions according to cultures. One of the “disturbing” Church programs in some cultures is “Family home evening”. I more than once heard the reaction from investigators: “You mean you only get together once a week for that? or “But we have that kind of FHE every evening”. Of course, this tradition of the whole family-together-every-evening has also been eroded in foreign cultures. But probably not as much as in the American way-of-life. But that would be another thread to discuss.

  21. Nate Oman on January 10, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    “not all Mormons are stuffy, uncreative people with a lack of appreciation for good style”

    [Loud gagging noise] I resent the implication that aversion to modernism is evidence of a lack of creativity or an appreciation for good style. There are aesthetic reasons to rejecting modernism that are somewhat deeper than middle class philistinism.

  22. Mark B on January 10, 2005 at 6:06 pm

    Words of one syllable department

    My post #15 was missing the word “not”.

  23. Adam Greenwood on January 10, 2005 at 6:07 pm

    Rusty,
    You equate an interest in beauty and design with an interest in modernism? Is there no distinction?

    A disregard for beauty and design matters. A disregard for modernism qua modernism doesn’t.

    I might add, a disregard for President Packer matters.

  24. William Morris on January 10, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    Nate:

    Word.

  25. Kim Siever on January 10, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    “when did “Utahnâ€? become “Utahan””

    A better question would be, “when did Utahan become Utahn?”

  26. Greg on January 10, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    Julie,

    A quick search produced this, which supports Jeremy’s recollection:

    “You can do a great deal to create in your home an atmosphere of peace and homeyness and reverence and tranquility and security. You can do this without much to live on. Or you can create something angular and cold … and artificial. In a thousand different ways your youngsters will be influenced by the choice you make. You can set the tone. It can be quiet and peaceful where quiet and powerful strength can grow, or it can be bold and loud and turn the mainspring of tension a bit tighter in the little children as they are growing up, until at last, that mainspring breaks� (Eternal Marriage, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [14 Apr. 1970]).

    As for criticism of open floor plans, I’ll have to dig around for a cite. I think the idea was that children and parents both need sanctuaries, private places where they can close the door and have solitude, and that this is more likely in a home with many small rooms rather than wide open spaces. Of course, I think both privacy and openness are important, though we have more of the latter than the former in our little loft.

  27. Steve Evans on January 10, 2005 at 6:30 pm

    Nate: “I resent the implication that aversion to modernism is evidence of a lack of creativity or an appreciation for good style.”

    That’s true enough, among people who know enough to tell the difference between modernism and any other kind of -ism. In other words, you don’t have to like modernism, but you’d better understand it if you care at all about architecture. I think that’s what you (and most likely, Adam) are implicitly saying, but it’s just as well to make it explicit.

    In terms of equating “an interest in beauty and design with an interest in modernism,” well, that’s possibly true — those interested in beauty and design are more likely to be interested in the principles of modernism, as they will also be interested in all things pertaining to design and beauty. They shouldn’t favor modernism to the exclusion of all other styles (nor should any designer), but they should at least be familiar with the Chicago School, Art Nouveau and the roots of modernism, as well as Gehry, Pei and postmodernism. In other words, those that love beauty and design should be interested in all of these things.

    To answer Greg’s question: mormons care about modern architecture. The Church is a somewhat different story, although it too cares about architecture.

  28. J. Stapley on January 10, 2005 at 6:33 pm

    I doubt the Packer had any counsel on modernist architecture per se. More likely, it was a commentary on having a home where kids can be kids. I have some single friends who have awesome pads that I would not let my kids into for a second…the old elephant in the china store.

  29. Larry on January 10, 2005 at 6:39 pm

    Rusty,

    Re:#14. Part of the reason the Church has moved away from the old style of architecture is so the focus will be on what goes on inside the temple and not what is on the outside. There are very few temples that are really built to the exacting standards that theoretically they should be, and that includes many of the first temples built.
    As for Elder Packer, he really matters!

  30. Jay on January 10, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    I would venture that it is the cost of modern homes that leads to them not being used more. Where they may not cost more in materials to build than traditional stiles (ranch, split level, prarie, victorian etc) there are other costs.

    1. Most housing stock is of the traditional nature, so if you want to buy a modern home you have to buy new.
    2. Most builders offer only “traditional” or “neotraditional” style homes. Why? Builders are risk averse, and by offering a traditional product they minimize risk. They could build more modern homes, but would people buy them? The unknown is terrifying when you have potentially millions of dollars tied up in development. Also switching design styles costs the builders more money because they have to train employees in new construction techniques. Also it is more difficult to get approval for new designs from the cities and neighbors (the NIMBY problem).
    3. So if you can’t buy one from a big developer, you have to build it yourself. And custom homes are generally more expensive because of 1) lack of economies of scale in ordering materials 2) finding land. Land is a huge problem, especially if trying to build an affordable house. Sure the 3/4-1 acre lot is likely to be readily available, but in most western cities it is impossible to easily find an affordable 1/4 acre lot.

    So if you want a modern home in the US your options are 1) find a prebuilt home, which for all the reasons listed above is likely to be an expensive custom home or 2) build a custom home yourself.

    Now there are other options, including using your own labor or using a prefab kit (ie shipping containers), but for the average joe that is just to much.

    Thus in the US buying a modern home is the equivalent of buying an electric vehicle 10 years ago, available yes, but for most people just not practical.

    Just my 2cents

  31. Steve Evans on January 10, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    Larry: “Part of the reason the Church has moved away from the old style of architecture is so the focus will be on what goes on inside the temple and not what is on the outside”

    There’s no basis for that statement, to my knowledge.

  32. Greg on January 10, 2005 at 6:43 pm

    I forgot to mention that the quote above (#26) is from Elder Packer.

  33. Rusty on January 10, 2005 at 6:48 pm

    Adam & Larry, the disregard for President Packer was a joke. As far as my equating beauty and design with modernism, you’re right, they aren’t the same. But I think Steve’s point is well taken. I also believe that an active interest in beauty and design is a continuing education, not stopping with the post-war suburban architecture of the 50’s. There are multitudes of virtues in modernist design (as I mentioned before, the contextual considerations as well as environmental concerns and aesthetics) that are worthy of inspection, even by those who might otherwise not care.

    As many have suggested above, space is one of the major factors in modernist design. Here in Brooklyn I’ve been renovating our small kitchen for the past two months. It used to have a small fridge and a small oven/stove and few cabinets. As we’ve replaced everything, we’ve added a large fridge, a large oven/stove and have added cabinets, and it feels like there is twice as much space as there was before. It’s amazing what smart (modern) spacial thinking can do to a space.

    In an undergrad class from Adrian Pulfer (head of the design department at BYU, he was also the one that redesigned the Church’s logo), we were looking at some shots of modern architecture in Spain. In one shot there was an interior wall about 40 feet high with a beautiful wooden texture, glass wall opposite with a concrete floor and details. He said, “if only we made our temples with such sensibility.” Oh boy, could you imagine? I picture a temple with these considerations in hand with symbolism, rather than removing the visual symbolism and contextual sensetivity completely.

  34. Steve Evans on January 10, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    Man, Rusty, you’re STILL not done with that kitchen?! Wither the fries, man.

  35. Julie in Austin on January 10, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    I like that quote from Pres. Packer. Environment does have a huge impact, especially on kids. But on adults, too. I find white walls literally depressing, and so we don’t have any. Our great room is dark red, we have yellow, blue, and green rooms, and the master bedroom is orange. (It isn’t nearly as hideous as it sounds, I promise.)

  36. Rusty on January 10, 2005 at 6:54 pm

    Steve, yeah, and thanks for all your help. It wouldn’t look the same without all those Saturdays you put in.

  37. Mare on January 10, 2005 at 6:56 pm

    Lucky me Im married to an modern architect in Utah and Im Mormon. We get frustrated with the lack of originality in home building but Ivory Homes is sadly the hot home to buy.
    Utah is a world of its own when it comes to home building. Its all about keeping up with the Jones family down the street(thus the high Chaper 11 rate). I must build a home just like them with the 3 car garage and the stucco and brick exterior. A large entry, purgo floors and granite countertops and to finish all of just right I will decorate with anything from RC Willey.
    Its funny, I just emailed IKEA 2 days ago asking when they would build in Utah. It would be so refreshing to have somewhere to go that sells great light fixtures and displays contemporary styles for the masses. O let us dream of the day….

  38. Steve Evans on January 10, 2005 at 6:56 pm

    Err… too busy with Half-Life 2, man :)

  39. Greg on January 10, 2005 at 6:57 pm

    Jay,

    I think a lot of what you said is right. But there was a time during the post-war boom when people did want modern homes, and huge tracts of modern homes were built in the inner and outer suburbs (in California, you can see them in parts of LA, Palo Alto, and Walnut Creek). So I think the lack of mass demand (which lowers supply, which drives up the prices of the few modern homes on the market) is probably just a matter of taste, not intrinsic costs. Which is an answer to Adam’s earlier question: I care because if I can get a lot of people, Mormons or not, interested in modernist homes, I might be able to afford one someday. I was hoping the cool modernism of The Incredibles’ home would do it, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on…

  40. Rusty on January 10, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    Greg, the Incredible’s home seemed to be more mid-20th century modern than 21st century. However, I’d say that Edna Mode’s home was very modernist.

  41. Ivan Wolfe on January 10, 2005 at 7:22 pm

    You know –

    I hope Packe is the next prophet (just because of the number of people it would tick off).

    (of course, all in love and good faith).

    ;-)

  42. Adam Greenwood on January 10, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    Greg,
    I’ll go for the home if you can throw in a bulletproof, inflammable, infinitely stretchable suit (without cape).

  43. Larry on January 10, 2005 at 7:35 pm

    Steve,

    I haven’t got the info in front of me, but I asked the same question about 25 years ago and found out that the Church was going away from obvious symbolism in it’s architecture.
    However, if you look at the podium in the Conference Centre I believe that it contains some significant symbolism.

  44. William Morris on January 10, 2005 at 7:36 pm

    Julie:

    I didn’t realize how truly oppressive landlord-white walls were until we found a rental owned by a friend-of-a-friend and were able to put some color on the walls. My wife told me it would make a huge difference. I believed her, but when my belief turned to knowledge, I grieved for all those still living with the WHITE.

  45. Larry on January 10, 2005 at 7:37 pm

    Steve,

    Sorry, I meant to add that Allen Fletcher has done some good research on symbolism in Church architecture. I believe you might know him.

  46. Jay on January 10, 2005 at 7:58 pm

    Many of the design ideas are a matter of public taste. I would argue that Americans, Mormons included, are more design concious now that ever. We only have to look at Target’s sucess with “pop design” to see an example.

    As far as home styles,I would argue it is more a regional decision than anything else. Ie I love the mission style home, but good luck getting that in Vegas! (even though for the most part the mission style available in the NW, the south etc, are the same construction techniques.

    The LDS church illustrates an interesting duality in architecture. First Temples must be beautiful, unique structures, but they must also be fairly restrained. (whether that is gothic/romantic – Salt Lake Temple vs. Notre Dame, Modernist, etc)

    also the local meetinghouse are for the most part “handsome”, but not beautiful. Their common appearance makes it easy to identify an LDS meetinghouse, but makes it a little cookie cutter. I would like to see some design incorporated to have each meetinghouse have a sense of place. But that is just one mans opinion.

  47. Jay S on January 10, 2005 at 7:58 pm

    I think I better change my moniker to avoid confusion with the Jay in the other thread!

  48. mj pritchett on January 10, 2005 at 8:22 pm

    Yesterday in our Ward Council we were discussing the qualifications needed to be the stake physical facilities representative–this is the poor soul who interacts with the Church’s building and maintenance bureaucracy on behalf of the wards and the stake.

    Our relief society president suggested that we needed either someone with a very strong testimony or someone with no testimony at all. Amens were spoken all around.

  49. gst on January 10, 2005 at 8:27 pm

    Adam, to quote Dr. Nick Riviera: “‘Inflammable’ means ‘flammable’? What a country!”

  50. Nate Oman on January 10, 2005 at 9:20 pm

    Greg: based on your description of the article, the author’s response to the letter (“The author of the article responded, “In no way was I trying to make any correlation between the practice of Mormonism and propensity toward, or aversion to, modern design. . . .â€?) seems rather implausible. If one is talking about the cultural homogeneity of Utah, one is talking about its Mormon homogeneity. One might argue that “true” Mormonism is distinct from Utah Mormonism, but it hardly seems a bit of a stretch to say that Utah Mormonism has nothing to do with Mormonism. It sounds rather as though the author thought that he (she) could get away with taking pot shots (probably deserved, mind you) at Mormons and get away with it, but was unwilling to defend her inuendo when faced with an actual Mormon. (“Yee gods! I didn’t think that one of them would be reading something so hip.”)

  51. Clark on January 10, 2005 at 9:26 pm

    The Incredibles was a running joke of various houses Frank Lloyd Wright had done. It especially captures that era of the late 60’s and early 70’s when that was the style. I’ll fully confess I don’t like most Wright houses, although I do like a lot of modern architecture. I suspect a lot of the anti-modernist feel among many people comes from shoddy knock-offs of Wright houses.

  52. Clark on January 10, 2005 at 9:28 pm

    BTW – some might find this PBS site interesting.

  53. Greg on January 10, 2005 at 10:01 pm

    Nate,
    I think you are right about what the author of the article was thinking. But it really wasn’t a critical piece. When I saw the letter to the editor, I had to go back to the article to figure out why she was offended.

    Clark,
    Not to nitpick in an area I know little about, but I disagree with those that identify the Incredibles’ home as a Frank Lloyd Wright. They live in a modernist suburban subdivision reminiscent of the 50s and 60s designs by Eichler and others. Wright (especially his Usonian homes) certainly influenced those later architects, but he didn’t build modern subdivisions for the masses (as the site you linked to points out, only 60 Usonians were ever built, back in the 20s or 30s). Normal work-a-day middle class folks like the Incredibles didn’t live in Wright houses. Plus the Incredibles clearly come from California, where post-war suburban modernism was born, not the Midwest.

  54. Kristine on January 10, 2005 at 10:06 pm

    “It sounds rather as though the author thought that he (she) could get away with taking pot shots (probably deserved, mind you) at Mormons and get away with it, but was unwilling to defend her inuendo when faced with an actual Mormon. (“Yee gods! I didn’t think that one of them would be reading something so hip.”)”

    Reminds me of my most awkward moment in college: one of my professors invited the class to his home for the last class session. He was pouring drinks at the beginning, and I asked for water, and he said “What, are you Mormon or something?”

  55. Clark on January 10, 2005 at 10:19 pm

    You mean like the Brady Bunch’s home, Greg? (grin)

  56. Greg on January 10, 2005 at 10:47 pm

    The Brady Bunch home was more of a run-of-the-mill ranch style, not really modernist. Compare this — http://davidbrady.com/times/latbrady.html
    to these — http://www.eichlersocal.com/tmbgallery2.htm

  57. Anna on January 11, 2005 at 10:27 am

    Per: “Mormons care about modern architecture. The Church is a somewhat different story, although it too cares about architecture”

    and

    “Part of the reason the Church has moved away from the old style of architecture is so the focus will be on what goes on inside the temple and not what is on the outside�

    A few years ago the BYU Museum of Art featured and exhibit about the history of architecture in the Mormon church. In the early church they were very aware of “progressive” architectural trends and built meeting houses and temples accordingly. (The Kirtland and Nauvoo temples are good examples of modiefied late Goergian architecture). Most of these meeting houses have been torn down and replaced by the not so interesting cookie cutter meeting houses that we have now. I don’t know about temples, but if you’re talking about meeting houses, the reasons behind a church wide trend towards function rather than form were based on practical reasons (saving money and increasing needs for space) rather than quasi-doctrinal objections to fine architecture.

  58. Steve Evans on January 11, 2005 at 10:35 am

    I think Anna’s right; our buildings are most cost-conscious than anything else.

    If we’ve swerved towards more conservative lines in our temples, it may be because whenever we stick out necks out, something gaudy happens (i.e., San Diego).

    Now, before you fans of the San Diego temple go all ballistic on me, let me just say it’s a very pretty, and very pointy temple.

  59. Mare on January 11, 2005 at 11:23 am

    An IKEA update. Here is the response I recieved from IKEA about building one in Utah.

    Hello Mare,

    Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

    We do recognize the potential customer base that exists for us in the
    Utah area; however, with only 22 stores currently in the U.S., we
    have not committed to a timeframe for entering that market yet.
    Currently, our focus is on building new stores in markets where we
    already have a presence (Our economies of scale are what keep our
    prices so low).

    Your interest in IKEA coming to Utah will be noted and forwarded to
    the appropriate department. Please feel free to check back with us
    at a later date, as we are still developing our plans for 2005, 2006,
    and 2007. You can also visit our website, to view a list of stores
    that are currently on our timeline:

    -Atlanta, GA: Summer 2005
    -Frisco, TX Summer – 2005
    -West Sacramento: Fall – 2005

    We do hope that this information has been helpful, and we thank you
    for your inquiry.

    Best Regards,
    TONY
    IKEA Customer Care Center

  60. garnet on January 11, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    Speaking of Frank Lloyd Wright, does anyone know the address of the house he designed in Bountiful?

  61. Amira on January 11, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    Garnet,

    My husband toured the Stromquist House in Bountiful. I’ll see if we can track down the address.

  62. Cugeno on January 11, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    I recall a quote from a men’s fashion magazine in which the following sentiment was expressed:

    “You will get lots of compliments on that pre-framed art you picked up at IKEA…

    …but you will always feel guilty about it.”

  63. R.G. on January 13, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    Modernism seems to have at its foundation a hostility towards centuries of historical tradition in architecture. In D. &C. 124:26 the Lord specifically told Joseph Smith that “knowledge of antiquity” should be part of building a temple. Modernism seems to treat historical amnesia as an aesthetic imperative instead of a tragedy.

  64. R.G. on January 13, 2005 at 7:10 pm

    I have noticed that some have lamented the lack of symbolism in architecture of the last half century or so. Symbolism has traditionally been expressed in architecture through the decorative arts such as stained glass, mosaics, bas relief sculpture, etc. Architecture was very litteraly the “mother of the arts.” And in that process it also richly displayed a very wide spectrum of histoical, philosphical, and theological messages.
    The Bau-haus was responsible for much of the philosophical and aesthetic foundation for modernism. It was openly hostile to using the traditional decorative arts. When “ornamentation” was permitted to be part of such buildings, it was usually aesthetically anti-historical. It took such forms as exposing the heads of bolts that held the steel I beams together. It is a bit difficult to communicate very complicated historical, philosophical, or theological messages using the heads of bolts.

  65. Greg on January 16, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks for your comments, R.G. I don’t think the verse you cite necessarily supports the notion that the temples ought to have historicist and traditionalist architectural features (other than what is revealed and doctrinally necessary). And I’m not sure about your point concerning “historical amnesia.” Certainly one can have a knowledge and love of antiquity but prefer to live and worship in modernist buildings.

    While you’re right that symbolism is frequently expressed through decorative arts, which are mostly rejected by modernism, I don’t think that “modernist symbolism” is a contradiction in terms. Look at the Vietnam memorial, the St. Louis Arch, or even Libeskind’s proposal for the World Trade Center site — I think each of these succeeds at communicating historical or philosophical messages.

  66. RG on January 16, 2005 at 6:43 pm

    I find it interesting that even the Lord acknowledges historical precident in his creations, “like unto worlds heretofore created…” Ex Nihlo creation is not only bad theology, it also tends to produce rather sterile architecture.
    The great arch in St. Louis (which I have visited twice) is an amazing piece of engineering (even though the ride to the top gave me a severe case of clastraphobia). The symbolism is strong, but limited in scope. Luckily, the National Parks Service has built their largest and most elaborate museum at the base of the arch so that the richness of the western expansion story could be told. I don’t recall the Cathedral of Chartres requiring supplimentry interpretive support of that physical magnitude.
    The interpretive power (even if the message is a bit truncated) of the arch in St. Louis is somewhat of an anonmoly in modern architecture. The power, richness, and complexity of the symbolic messages of Chartres can be found on litterally hundreds of medieval buildings. Those buildings make much of the architecture of present look rather “message challanged.”
    Chartres had a population of 15,000 when that cathedral was built. How many towns in America of that size (or even a ten times that size), are creating buildings today that in over 800 years will still be seen as among the greatest treasures of world architecture? Never have we built, as a civilization, so many buildings. Never have so few of them been worthy of keeping for the next thousand years.

  67. greg.org on January 17, 2005 at 10:28 pm

    1) the FLW house in Bountiful is up a south-facing canyon road. I went to look at it 10 years or so ago when it was for sale for an insane $2mm. It’s made of cinderblock and was painted a pepto-bismolly pink. NEEDS WORK. Check a monograph of Wright’s work, and it’ll give the complete address.

    2) I’ve started to notice a few interesting-to-pretty-good mid-century modern houses in the Monument Park area above Foothill Blvd in SLC: flat, modest but thoughtfully designed modernist homes from the 60’s and early 70’s that will surely be torn down and replaced with some orthodontist’s dream palace the next time they go on the market. Try going up Comanche Dr., I think.

    3) The coolest house I can think of in SLC is a very Miesian black glass box on stilts on Wasatch Dr, about 1900 south, built right up next to a huge boulder.

    4) That said, my parents built a relatively unconventional modernist house in SLC a few years ago. Then a couple of years ago, the people across the street started building an even MORE modernist-style house. At a stake party, someone told my mom about the horrible new house going up “right across the street from that other monstrosity.” “That’s my house,” my mom told the fine sister.

  68. RG on January 18, 2005 at 8:59 am

    We live in a “late 60’s” neighborhood in S.L.C. The roofs of the houses have the very, very low pitches of modernism. With the snow and freeze thaw cycles many of us in this area have chronic problems with leaky roofs. We have installed our third “lifetime” roof in twenty years, in our ongoing attempt to rectify an architectural faux pas of modernism. When heavy snow storms come through, many have to go up on their roofs to shovel off the snow. Because sometimes roofs crack under the weight of the snow load. Less “progressive” architectural styles (those with those “uncool” steep pitches and gables) in this area don’t seem to have this problem.

  69. Mony Ty on July 2, 2005 at 3:42 pm

    Reading the article in Dwell magazine, make Utah feel like everyone is living in Brigham Young plan neighborhood.Being a realtor that specialize in mid-century contemporary and mordern design home, I found great pocket of homes around the valley design by Ron Molen, Ed Drier and John Sugden. A lot have been strip of it design integrity, leaving only a shell of it former plans. Seller believing that making their homes more tradional in decor and shape will make it easier to sell. Also most realtors have no idea about designs and never have learn to market these kind of homes. A large growth of interest in these homes have come from a younger consumers. Wall Paper, Dwell, have spark a lot of interest in better design living space.