Brothers and Sisters, Aloha.
In 1972, I came here and attended the LTM, the Language Training Mission, to learn Korean and lived in one of the apartments on campus. As an architect for the church, I had the privilege of leading the design teams of the Apia Samoa Temple, of the major remodel of the Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple, and of the Laie Temple remodel completed in 2010. So, I feel a very strong connection to the people of Polynesia. I’m here now continuing with my Polynesian connection working at the PCC.
This invitation to speak with you has come as a great surprise to me and my wife. Why? Because we both feel we are common, simple, latter-day saints participating in a part of the Lord’s work in our small way. His work includes living His gospel, receiving His covenants, especially that of the temple, going about doing good, raising a righteous posterity, and contributing our time, talents, and all he has given us to the building of His kingdom here on the earth. Each of us contributes in our own way to building His kingdom and the path we each take varies greatly according to His will. I have had the privilege of building His kingdom in a more literal way than most through architecture.
I would like to talk about my path because of its uniqueness. My message is from my heart and intentionally, deeply personal. I hope you hear it as it is intended to be an example for you. For if the Lord would guide me, of course, He will guide you, your will permitting.
I grew up in a small town in southern Oregon called Klamath Falls. My path to serving as an architect on temples began when I was 17 years old. I wanted to receive a patriarchal blessing to help me and prepared myself to receive one. As the patriarch was giving me my blessing and sensing he was nearing the end of the blessing, I asked a question of the Lord in my mind and the patriarch immediately answered it in the blessing. He never knew I asked a question and that the Lord had given him the answer. I knew then, there was a God in Heaven hearing my plea and I was to be on His path.
We should consider our individual patriarchal blessings as a guide on a path that we should take to fulfill His will regarding our lives. If I was faithful to my covenants, my blessing would be a guide to me, showing me the way that I could play a part in the planning of temples of this Church. But the path wasn’t clearly defined nor easy to follow.
I didn’t know then that I would become an architect. I didn’t even know what one was. They didn’t have any that I knew of in my hometown. I was nearing graduation from high school and had to figure out what I would do after that. I knew I wanted to get a degree, but I didn’t realize then that I would have to travel a very long road to become an architect. But my father encouraged me that it was OK since I would get a lot of essential experience along the way.
I worked in architects’ offices while going to school because I didn’t have enough money to make it through without working. My wife also worked in the home throughout my schooling. I believe it’s OK to work and go to school to get one’s education, like what most of you are now doing.
During the next nine years, I received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. That was a long road. I gained invaluable experience patiently waiting for the opportunity of working for the Church. But it was not yet to be. I had to develop many skills along the path in the field of architecture or the Lord wouldn’t have been able to use me.
One experience I had while attending graduate school was critical to continuing on my path. While I was working on a class assignment in architecture school, late one night, which wasn’t at all unusual, I was praying for help on the assignment and the spirit told me, “Move to Arizona.” What? Move away from Salt Lake, where the church was, where I thought I would work someday? Why would I move away from a future job location where I was supposed to be? This wasn’t on the path. I asked my father if he would give me a father’s blessing. It proved to be the guide that I needed at that time. Gayle and I had peace come to our hearts as the work in Salt Lake slowed way down and a friend of mine who was working in Mesa, Arizona called and asked if I would be willing to move down there and work because he was very busy.
For the next ten years, I worked in private practice trying to complete the requirements for my license as well as just making a living. During this time, my partner and I did a number of projects for the church, which exposed me to people inside the church organization working on buildings. This gave me a lot of experience, more than I had planned on. My partner and his wife, who were following the path the Lord would have them follow, moved their family out of state after the two of us had been in business together for seven years. Because of their move, my wife and I wanted to move closer to our families either back to Utah, where she was from, or to Oregon, where I was from.
To solve our dilemma, my wife and I spent the next three to four months praying, fasting, and attending the temple in order to know what the Lord would have us do. The answer was painfully, “Stay in Arizona.” The answer came in the form of a powerful spiritual experience in the temple that we will never forget. I kept the business going for the next three years.
This is a side note along my path of life. I’m colorblind. Being naïve, I didn’t really know what effect my color blindness would have on my interior design degree or on my profession as an architect. I did run into problems a time or two along the way selecting green paint to go on stucco walls when they were supposed to be tan. Fortunately, the contractor called me to verify, “They weren’t really supposed to be green were they?” The Lord knew I would be colorblind and still wanted me to go into this profession. I had to find ways to cope with this problem throughout my life.
Altogether, I worked in architect’s offices and in our partnership for 17 years before being hired by the church.
During what was to be the last year of running my business, the church approached me about coming to work for the church as an architect. After working in the Southwest Area office for a couple of years, I had the feeling that I should submit my resume to the head of the Architecture and Engineering Department. The feeling wouldn’t go away. So, I finally sent my resume to the director of the department. He said they were going to be posting for a job opening, but they just hadn’t got around to it. I was hired near the end of 1996.
When I was a young man, I couldn’t have dreamed of the experiences that yet lay in waiting for me. The Lord had greater things for me to do than what I was qualified for.
A few months later the surprise of surprises happened when we heard about the now-well-known story of the development of the small temple concept. President Hinckley told of his coming home from a trip through northern Mexico, conversing with a stake president in Colonia Juarez on what more could be done to help the saints in the colonies, and was inspired to have our department work on ideas for a small temple. He handed the sketch he had drawn of a small temple plan to our managing director, Brother Little. Everyone in the office was asked to sketch their ideas of what it could look like. The President attached some criteria to the idea. It wasn’t to be larger than 6,000 s.f. and cost no more than a million dollars. We accomplished one of those criteria.
I was privileged to develop a floor plan with two other architects, that divided the temple into two areas, one was the Aaronic priesthood side for the baptismal font and the other was the Melchizedek priesthood side for the other ordinances. I was then asked to develop the exterior elevations for the concept. I had never designed anything close to a temple in my private practice, yet here I was designing a temple. I was not qualified. I had no experience. I didn’t really know what it should look like. But, as I was drawing lines on the computer, I remember having ideas come to my mind that I knew were not mine. The Spirit gave them to me. I kept drawing lines and completed this idea for the first small temple, which became the Monticello Utah Temple. I prepared elevations for the other floor plan concepts as well. However, we forgot to develop a scheme based on the President’s sketch. So, we quickly completed this option as well. Brother Little presented the options to President Hinckley. We might think, “I did this” or “I did that,” but if we have the Holy Ghost with us always and pray with faith to receive inspiration and expect to be inspired, the Lord will inspire us. I was only the pencil. But in our digital day, I was the computer mouse being pushed around to create lines on a screen.
I’ve learned that inspiration from the Lord typically comes only one line at a time. I have to draw the first line before I receive inspiration on subsequent ideas. Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. This process leads to inspired architectural design. It is not a complete vision of a building. It is what we call an iterative process. Lots of ideas are tried and improved and changed. Some are even thrown away only to start new ones, again and again. I’ve also learned that you always do the best you can. Don’t settle on the first idea or on mediocrity, the trite, or the trendy. It has to be the best we can do within the constraints given us by our priesthood leaders. We do grow and improve our abilities if we ask Him to help us. The Lord will help us increase our talents little by little. I also learned these are His houses, with His name on them. “Holiness to the Lord, House of the Lord.”
In our project meetings, we began every meeting with prayer and asked for the Lord’s help and inspiration. We then would go to work with a team around a table and discuss the various phases and systems of a temple. Every member of the team was expected to contribute in a positive way sharing their thoughts and inspiration. Each comment or thought contributed a small piece to the puzzle, refining the overall design, hopefully, resulting in a very beautiful temple. The inspiration came from anyone on the team in the way of a comment here, an idea there, a modification, or even a change of direction. Collaboration was a key to our success. No one person is the sole designer of a temple. I’ve learned the Lord is always in the details of His houses.
Today, you can go on the Church’s website and see there are:
- 168 operating temples as of October’s General Conference.
- 45 temples are under construction.
- 52 temples have been announced, meaning they are in some phase of design.
That’s a total of 265 temples and to no one’s surprise, with more in the planning.
As mentioned, the first temple I worked on was the Monticello Temple. It was no. 53 back in 1998. Since then, there have been 212 more temples completed and in process. I have had the privilege of working on more than 40 temples in my career.
Many are in places where you are from. So, I feel a real connection with you when you tell me where you’re from and perhaps, I got to work on that temple in your area. President Nelson is trying to get the temples closer and closer to the saints throughout the world so you and your families can do the work for your deceased ancestors. For those of you who live in places that don’t have a temple nearby, I would encourage you, along with your fellow saints, to pray for a temple and then as President Hinckley said, “live your lives like you deserve one,” like the saints in Colonia Juarez.
The Paris France Temple
The Paris France Temple was long-awaited for by the Parisian saints. It took more than 13 years from the time I became involved, to complete because of difficulty finding an acceptable site upon which to build. The political climate caused us to do feasibility studies on over 15 different locations trying to find the right site. Finally, being located just a couple of blocks away from the Palace of Versailles, we had numerous restrictions to follow based on the local requirements. You’ll notice there isn’t an Angel Moroni on the temple. There were height restrictions that prevented us from putting a steeple on it tall enough to put the Angel Moroni on.
Instead, we were led by the First Presidency to place a Christus statue in the garden plaza, which is very beautiful. Locals come in and sit near the statue to have a quiet, contemplative experience.
Designing the stained glass was a lengthy process. We used some of the flowers local to the area as a design theme for the window art glass. In my opinion, it is some of the most beautiful stained glass in any temple of the Church.
Rome Italy Temple
I had the privilege of working on the Rome Italy Temple that took more than one year to design and over nine years to construct. The design process of this temple was difficult. Every temple has its design difficulties, but the Rome Temple design proved to be extra difficult for our design team.
When in Rome, do you design it to look like the Roman or classical buildings, which are some of the greatest buildings in the world? There would be no compromising on the details if we chose that path. How would we identify it as belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Yet, it needed to have a significant identity of its own in this world-class city, though it didn’t need to compete with its great architecture.
We found a nugget of architecture that influenced the shape of the temple in the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane chapel by Borromini. Its ceiling shape gave rise to the thoughts of the shape of the walls of the temple.
The temple design evolved to have rounded exterior and interior walls. We architects were the focus of kind-hearted cursings by the contractors who had to figure out how to build them with granite.
The site design presented new opportunities when President Monson added a visitor’s center. The wheels of creativity really churned in the minds of our Salt Lake firm.
This began the process of procuring copies of the statues by sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen located in the National Cathedral, the “Church of Our Lady” in Denmark.
The VCBO architect team went over there and digitally scanned the statues so they could be replicated as well as providing the Church of Our Lady with a digital record of these historic statues. The sculptures in the temple visitors center are magnificent and worth seeing. But please remember the pearl in the temple when you visit.
Then the highlight of the temple dedication happened when the Brethren gathered in the visitors center for this iconic photo. President Nelson surprised everyone when he announced quietly that all members of the First Presidency and the Twelve should go to the dedication. This was the first time, since all of them were healthy enough, they would all gather in one place outside the United States.
There was also a historic meeting of our Prophet and the Pope.
This is one of my favorite photos of the temple that an observant photographer captured for all of us to appreciate. President Eyring said:
“Every part of these buildings, and all that goes on inside them, reflect the love of the Savior for us, and our love for Him.” 1
Salt Lake Temple
I believe the Salt Lake Temple is the most important visual identity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of the Kingdom of God on earth. It is the flagship temple of the Church.
I was privileged to work on this icon, helping with numerous small projects and improvements for more than fifteen years. The brethren were interested in considering the seismic improvements of the temple for a number of years, but it took the right circumstances and engineering technology before they were comfortable in proceeding with this major renovation.
The main goal of the project was to have an improved foundation system that would resist earthquake forces in order to preserve the temple into the millennium. Without these improvements, if there was a major earthquake, there could be irreparable damage to the temple.
The seismic design, in a nutshell, is a building foundation resting on a series of beams that are supported at the ends on marbles that are sitting in dishes allowing the earth to move beneath it and not move the temple much. The stone details at the top of the temple all have to be tied together, so they don’t fall off.
The seismic project allowed a number of other opportunity projects to be accomplished. One of these was to open the views to the temple from the streets.
With today’s computer technology, our team was able to model and render what the temple interiors would look like. We followed the historic details in developing the interiors of new spaces.
One of the real joys of working on this temple was the opportunity to learn about the original historic temple and all the renovations it went through for over one hundred twenty years.
Part of the challenge was to understand its original architecture versus just old changes, coming to the realization that often, what we are looking at today is not always original.
You can go online and see the latest developments of the temple design as well as its construction progress.
Elder Bednar also commented on the story by Elder Fyans about the jewel box and the pearl that my wife just spoke about, “The physical structure and grounds of a temple are majestic and beautifully maintained. Indeed, the Church goes to great lengths to create a physical environment in and around a temple that appropriately invites the Spirit of the Lord. However, we should remember that the ordinances and covenants we receive in the house of the Lord are the pearl of great price. The attractive physical setting is the jewel box.”
In my work, I was privileged, along with wonderful design teams, to create the design of “the box,” which box was essential—as a house for the Most High to dwell therein, for the restoration of the fullness of the priesthood and the keys revealing the temple ordinances and things hid from the world. 2
In creating the visual experience both inside and outside the box, if we weren’t careful, we could have created meaningless visual clutter distracting one from the Spirit of the Lord. But our design teams tried to take this responsibility very seriously as we tried always to please our prophet. We recognized that temples represent the Lord’s House to the saints and to the world. With that said, beautiful architecture does not make a temple. But the exercise of the Keys of the Holy Priesthood by a prophet of God who dedicates a building for the sacred ordinances of God, make a temple.
I worked on one such temple in particular that outwardly “the box” is not as attractive as many I’ve worked on. It is the Kinshasa Temple in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was a bit concerned what others might say about its simple design, but when I visited the temple upon completion, I prayed to have a feeling that it was still the Lord’s House. I was thrilled to have received that feeling. The faithful saints were so very grateful to have a temple of the Lord in their own land. It was a miracle.
My message today is about one person following the path the Lord wanted Him to go. It took many years for it to transpire. My invitation to you is to encourage you to use your faith in engaging the Lord in all your decisions and pursuits throughout your lives. All of them. Alma admonishes us to, “Counsel with the Lord in all our doings.” “to exercise our faith unto repentance,” that we should call upon His holy name and humble ourselves, and continue in prayer unto him when we are in our houses, in our closets, or even in our classrooms. 3
I wasn’t the most qualified or talented architect. Of course not. But I was willing, along with all my colleagues, to do what the Brethren wanted us to do. I made myself available to assist in the work through obtaining skills and experience in architecture. Your skills will be different but just as valuable as you contribute to the building of His kingdom. When each of us contributes our time and skills, it demonstrates our faith and submissiveness that we have chosen the path the Lord would have us follow. As President Nelson has said, “Let God prevail in our lives.” 4 I ask why? The Lord answers my question in this verse from Mathew, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” 5
How important it is for you to make the choice to follow your patriarchal blessings in confidence and faith. It will not just happen without pursuing its fulfillment. It is very important for you to follow the path the Lord would have you follow now and each year. It will not be clear, but He will “lead thee by the hand,” 6 and as Nephi said, “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless, I went forth…” 7
You will not do better by going on your own path. Right now, you’re at the crux of defining the path you will go. Just make sure it’s His path and you will find greater happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction than you ever thought possible.
I testify the Lord lives and He loves you dearly and will lead you along your path. He is excited to engage you in His service as you choose to follow Him. I say this in His holy name, Jesus Christ, Amen.
1. Henry B. Eyring, "Special Witnesses of Christ", jesuschrist.churchofjesuschrist.org
2. David A. Bednar, Act in Doctrine (Deseret Book Company, 2012)
3. Alma 37:17-27
4. "Let God Prevail", President Russell M. Nelson, October 2020 General Conference
5. Mathew 7:21
6. Doctrine and Covenants 112:10
7. 1 Nephi 4:6–7