In the previous post about the highest civic architecture in America -- state capitols and city halls -- I mentioned that political and religious buildings tend to be the most resistant to change.
Most state capitol buildings are some kind of Old World LARP (usually Roman), and the handful of exceptions are located along the old meta-frontier with the Indians, not close to the nation's origin. These exceptions are mostly of the American Block Symphony style, separating our national style from those of the Old World as described in the post before the last one.
Now we come to religious buildings. We are in a very lucky position in America because we don't have to look at the buildings of existing popular religions, to see how well they've adapted our national architectural style -- on the whole, they have ignored it, preferring various Old World LARP styles (Romanesque, Gothic, etc.). We're talking about the big impressive kind of buildings, not the more informal weekly meeting houses for every neighborhood all around the country, few of whom have enough money to build something impressive in any style.
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We can do better, and look at the new global religion that was created in America -- Mormonism. It is not Christian or otherwise Abrahamic. (None of those religions accepts it as their own, and religious communion is socially constructed -- if they say it's not, it's not.) It's brand-new, created right here in America, with a distinctly New World genesis narrative, and a whole new set of sacred texts (Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price). It does posit links to Old World roots so it doesn't feel so historically invalid, although generally the links are to the ancient Saharo-Arabian sphere like Egypt and Syria, not Greece or Rome or Medieval / Early Modern Europe (where we actually trace our roots to). In their genesis narrative, ancient or medieval action takes place in the New World with a mixture of New World and Old World ethnic groups.
The buildings most suited to impressive architecture are not the weekly meeting houses, but the Mormon temples -- a separate building for different functions. This is where Mormons hold their initiation rituals (endowment), wedding ceremonies (sealing), and baptism of the dead. This building has no counterpart in Christianity, where the daily / weekly meetings and the rare big special events like marriage, baptism, conversion, etc., are all located in a church or its surrounding complex.
Unlike Christian churches in America, the Mormon temples not only adhere to the American Block Symphony style, they were early adopters of it. Yep, you heard that right -- the supposedly stodgy, conservative Mormons were the avant-garde of American religious architecture. How else could it be? -- they just invented a whole new religion, why wouldn't they choose a whole new building style as well? If you want narratives that take place entirely back in the Old World, and a building type like Gothic cathedrals, you can join the Catholics. If you want New World narratives, and American blocky architecture, you should join the Mormons.
These developments both stem from the Mormons being a literal pioneer group that headed out West during their collective identity formation, before the frontier with the Indians was closed circa 1890. They eventually made Utah their base, but they spread out all around the West, and into the Pacific Islands and Latin America and other American frontiers that trace back to the Southwest gateway out of America proper (and even up into the Rockies and Pacific Coast of Canada). Shedding their back-East Euro-origin identity as they were trekking through the American Plains and Mountains, facing New World Indian foes, they needed a distinctly American religion to unite them in a sacred way, and a distinctly American style of architecture to express that.
For contrast, there was a splinter group early on that rallied around a blood relative of the founding prophet Joseph Smith, rather than the not-blood-related figure of Brigham Young. This splinter group did not head out West, choosing to stay in Missouri, no further out West than where the movement initially cohered, in Illinois. This not-so-pioneering group did not adopt the distinctive Mormon practices -- polygamy, temple underwear, Masonic iconography and initiation rituals, etc. They do believe in the Book of Mormon, and its New World genesis narrative, but none of the other stuff we associate with Mormons. They keep changing their name to disaffiliate more and more with the Mormons, so I won't bother looking it up. By now, they're de facto just another American Protestant group. And their architecture reflects that -- they never built temples at all, let alone in a distinctly American style.
So, even within this uniquely American religion (the Latter Day Saints movement), we can trace its distinctly American character to the fact that it made the out-West pioneering trek, well before the frontier was closed and safe. Their former fellow travelers who didn't want to travel with their fellows out West, never built distinctly American religious buildings, and were not at the vanguard of a distinctly American style.
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To survey the evolution of Mormon temple architecture, see this list from Wikipedia, and eyeball the thumbnail, hover over them, or click and view a larger series of images for that temple.
When the movement began in the 1830s and '40s, they built two temples, in Ohio and Illinois, neither of which looks like a new style -- they're eclectic borrowings from various Old World styles that were popular at the time.
By the time they reach Utah, they start building temples for real, and the first examples are completed between the 1870s and '90s. The first one, in St. George, is clearly derived from Medieval / Early Modern European sources. However, notice how minimalized it has become, compared to more elaborate and faithful revival styles back East at that time. Much blockier and simplified in form, with sparse ornamentation. Also note that unlike Romanesque, Gothic, etc., cathedrals, or Medieval castle keeps, the main entrance for this temple has the highest tower in the center, rather than two high towers or turrets flanking a shorter central portion. The entrances are two, to either side of the center, unlike the central portal of a cathedral or castle keep. Finally, note the bright white color -- no drab dark grays, muted browns, heavy brick reds, slate blues, or anything Old World-y and back-East like that.
The Logan and Manti temples are a bit more openly LARP-y, and highly eclectic, reflecting the fact that they were still groping around for their own style. Still, they are restrained for ornamentation and as blocky as such revival styles can get. The Logan temple has more dark earth tones, although the Manti temple is more light and bright.
The last of the early temples, the global pilgrimage destination in Salt Lake City, shows them still groping for an answer to, "what if it were European, but in an undone way?" The grouping of three spires at either end has the center one being tallest, again unlike European cathedrals or castles. And the windows on either end are arranged into vertical columns, rather than horizontal rows ("stages") as in various historical European styles. Americans are obsessed with spires, towers, and skyscrapers, because they let us escape placing windows into the horizontal stages of all European styles that predate us and were created in the Old World. Still, although it looks minimalist compared to the source material, it does look like an attempt to "do European in America".
By the time the next temples were designed, in the 1910s, the American revolution in architecture had taken place. Now the Mormons didn't have to invent their own style -- they could take the new American Block Symphony created in Chicago, and be one of the many out-West adopters of it. The Mormon architect duo of Pope & Burton immediately seized on the Prairie School approach of Frank Lloyd Wright, and with the temples in Laie, Hawaii, and Cardston, Alberta (Canada), they began the standardization of Mormon religious architecture to adhere to American Block Symphony, rather than grasp at European roots or do outright Old World revivals. The Mesa temple from the late '20s is also minimalist and blocky.
There are isolated examples of non-Mormon religions building a blocky American style church -- including the Prairie School, such as the Unity Temple (for Unitarians) in Chicago, from a decade earlier, in the 1900s. And there's a '30s Art Deco building for Catholics in suburban Detroit, Michigan (National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica Catholic Church).
However, no other religion took this style and standardized it for their future buildings. Only the Mormons have made the American Block style sacred and inviolable, rather than an amusing fad in the fashion cycle. Nearly all of the roughly 200 temples by now have respected that choice, however it may sometimes syncretize with local styles outside of America -- or indeed, back East, where the culture is only kinda-American, and kinda-Old-World-LARP. (One of the few major exceptions is located in WASP central of Hartford, Connecticut.) Mormonism is the only religion for whom so-called "Modernism" is traditional, historical, and sacred.
The only stylistic innovation left after those three from the early 1900s was the inclusion of a strong vertical form, since Americans have to have a spire, tower, or skyscraper. The next temple, in Idaho Falls, Idaho, was planned in the late '30s and mostly built by the early '40s, although the interior was delayed by WWII until a final dedication in 1945.
Borrowing from Art Deco or Streamline Moderne, it was the first to put a single spire jutting up from the rest of the block symphony, in this case atop a step pyramid of sorts (supposedly recalling New World pyramids, although just as plausibly a typically American blocky pixelation or low-res-ification of a smooth shape from Europe, like the tetrahedronal or conical roof of a tower.) Aside from the block symphony, this temple also cemented the "central tower" profile, in contrast to the "two towers or turrets flanking the shorter main entrance" from Europe, or fairly uniformly flat roof of Ancient Greek temples. And it made bright gleaming white the ideal to strive toward, also in contrast to every European style before it and on another continent.
If anything, it looks futuristic or space age-y. But we were still an expanding empire, growing in a continent we had only recently settled, and where Mormons were a brand-new religion. It *had to* look futuristic, because Americans were forged into a new, not-European culture by their meta-ethnic frontier with the Indians. And Mormons were forged into a new, not-Christian religion by the same process, more than other religious groups, since they were pioneer settlers out West before the Indian threat was over.
In a world used to Ancient Greek architecture, the Roman revolution that produced arches, vaults, and domes all over the place must have seemed futuristic as well, especially for engineering projects like aqueducts that the Greeks could not have dreamed of.
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Crucially, it's not about a technological discovery -- the main one in America was steel reinforced skeletons, and Mormon temples don't use that to make skyscrapers. Nor do they have neon lights or anything futuristic like that. It's a purely stylistic choice to do blocks in all sorts of sizes and scales, grouped into complex arrangements, that makes it American. Ditto for Roman arches, vaults, and domes -- they didn't need to discover concrete to make those, it was a stylistic choice to distinguish themselves as a wholly new culture, where before they were just borrowing the Eastern Mediterranean standards.
New architectural styles do not wait for a technological revolution, but a social psychological one, whereby a large group of people start to feel closer together, united in a struggle against a foe on the other side of a meta-ethnic frontier. Without that, they don't feel like a special newly forged ethnic group requiring their own new architectural style to embody that.
Well, it also has to wait for a political event, too -- healing after a civil war during the initial imperial expansion. The Roman style had to wait until the late 1st century BC, after the Crisis of the Roman Republic, and peaked in the 2nd century AD, before the collapse of the empire during the Crisis of the Third Century. Likewise, the American style -- whatever it could have been -- could not have emerged until after the Civil War and Reconstruction was over, yet before the current fragmentation, collapse, and anarchy of the post-2020 stage of our empire.
But that is a topic for another post, requiring more empires to survey.