As referenced in his closing remarks at the recent General Conference, Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today revealed plans for the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple. The landmark will close for four years on Dec. 29 to allow for major structural and seismic improvements, as well as construction of new temple grounds.

You can watch the full press conference below.

And here are is a flyover rendering.

Temple Enhancements

President Nelson described how the project “will enhance, refresh, and beautify the temple and its surrounding grounds,” further adding that “obsolete systems within the building will be replaced.” Primarily, this refers to outdated electrical and mechanical features, but also includes a large-scaled seismic retrofit. In addition, the temple will be enhanced to meet the needs of individuals with limited mobility.

What will likely be the most dramatic work, at least visually, is the seismic retrofit, which will involve a “base isolation system,” which involves digging down to and around the original foundation of the temple as well as strengthening stone spires and walls. Base isolation – you guessed it – isolates the base of a structure to strengthen it against earthquakes.

The temple will need to be strengthened top to bottom in order to install the base isolation system. | Church Newsroom

A closer look at the base isolation system | Church Newsroom

Also, the annex on the north side of the temple, which includes additional sealing rooms, will be demolished and rebuilt.

Original murals within the temple and other architectural flourishes will be unaffected.

Revamped Temple Grounds

Anyone who has visited Temple Square might note that the Salt Lake Temple’s actual grounds are comparatively small and largely cordoned off from the rest of the square. This is for security reasons, mostly. After all, it’s not like other temple grounds just has porous openings.

But that’s going to change, at least a bit. While Temple Square is currently surrounded by walls, those around the temple will be converted to fences to allow better views, and the grounds will be able to be accessed from gates at North Temple and South Temple. To accommodate this, the South Visitors Center will be demolished to make way for an entry esplanade and two guest pavilions.

Rendering looking to the north across South Temple Street | Church Newsroom

The existing entry point for the temple, to the northeast of the grounds, will be demolished to make way for a similar setup on the north side of the grounds, with guests being able to enter the temple through new “entry pavilions” (yes, plural) and then proceed down to a ground hall to arrive at the recommend desk. The grand hall will have a skylight with views of the granite icon looming above.

A cutaway of the revamped Salt Lake Temple and grounds, including the new entry points | Church Newsroom

Overhead rendering of renovating Salt Lake Temple and grounds. Notice the uniformity in design and more open appearance. | Church Newsroom

Rendering from the recommend desk | Church Newsroom

In addition, the Church will construct a tunnel from the Conference Center parking structure that goes directly into the grand hall, allowing patrons to avoid playing elevator roulette to be able to exit the Conference Center and ground level and then cross the street.

What about live endowment sessions?

This has been a question on most everyone’s mind. Would the Salt Lake (and also Manti) Temple cease the practice of live-actor endowment sessions and move to the film used in all other temples, all in the name of efficacy? It seems a balance has been reached.

Bishop Dean M. Davies, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, spoke about the potential impact of the temple closure during the press conference. Lamenting the inability to accommodate patrons who do not speak English, Bishop Davies announced that the temple will now serve members speaking over 86 languages. However, live performances will be preserved. Whether this means there will be some live sessions and some video ones, or that patrons in other languages will be audibly assisted during a live session is unclear.

Bishop Davies also encouraged members currently assigned to the Salt Lake Temple to attend other nearby temples in the area, although Latter-day Saints within the Salt Lake Temple district will not be formally reassigned to a particular temple.

Thoughts

Gone will be the days of getting married in the Salt Lake Temple only for the big “reveal” of the couple leaving the temple to be, uh, a hike up some stairs and out of a bland black and glass structure removed from the temple itself. We have no idea where the wedded will reveal themselves, as suddenly using the actual old temple doors seems unlikely, given the scope of this renovation and the traffic the Salt Lake Temple receives.

Opening up the temple grounds in view and practice is great. Even though Temple Square attracts its share of protesters who will soon not be blocked from view from within the temple grounds, there’s been something of a walled garden aesthetic at play for decades and it’s nice to see a change.

Also, taking up some of Temple Square and adding it to the temple proper’s grounds is great, and it effectively means the public (well, private, but you get it) square and temple grounds will each occupy half of the block.

As you can see in this Google Maps screenshot that also includes our janky outlining work, the entire area in red is currently separated from the Temple itself. All of it will give way to the open approach from the south, flanked by the two new buildings.

The overhead rendering above also shows us that while the temple’s grounds are expanded and renovated, they don’t appear to be as fenced off as before from the rest of Temple Square. If you look at the main thoroughfare along Temple Square, it seems the new temple grounds will open right into the rest of the Square. This is great. Visual glasnost! Yes, I just compared being able to stroll around Temple Square to a late-era Soviet policy.

Random factoid: The Salt Lake Temple is the only temple in the Church that does not follow a “City/Region-State/Country-Temple” naming convention (i.e. Jordan River Utah Temple, Rome Italy Temple). Instead, it is simply named the Salt Lake Temple. No reference to Utah.