Discovering Great Mormon Buildings

Sunset Ward Exterior

1601 22nd Ave
San Francisco, CA
Built 1945
Click for Map Location of Building

6 responses

  1. seshat


    I’m really delighted by the wide variety of meeting houses you’re posting here. It’s so nice to see chapels that reflect and fit the particular character and aesthetics of the community that builds and uses it.

    That said, I’m especially fond of this style, as I mention in a comment on a post featuring another elegant white church with a red tile roof. You stated elsewhere that a rather dated building from the 30s had been remodeled to “warm” it; warmth seems to me to be one of the main characteristics of this building, and coldness one of the main characteristics of all the LDS churches built since about 1969.

    Truth be told, I’ve seen brutalist buildings in nothing but concrete that are warmer than most Mormon churches. (Though admittedly concrete gets very warm in places with lots of sunshine.)

    Here’s my question: did meeting houses like this one actually function successfully? Did they have reasonably good layouts people could find their way around, enough classrooms, adequate administrative space?

    The reason for asking that is this underlying question: if the church was going to go with a cookie-cutter layout, couldn’t they have chosen something more inviting and less institutional?

    April 9, 2011 at 8:05 am

    • Hi seshat – thanks for your comments. The warmth I was referring to was a general reaction that many people had to the modern movement which was felt to be cold and lifeless, devoid of articulation or appropriate detail. This building actually has more articulation than even the one you’re referring to (which is the Grandview Ward building, for anyone else reading.) I agree that the solution for the change in the Grandview building did not bring more warmth, but I believe that was the desired goal.

      To answer your question, I think that buildings such as this have absolutely been successful. If anything, they are too large and have too many classrooms. Especially for the groups meeting in them now. With America’s move to the suburbs, many of these older LDS chapels have very small congregations meeting in them, which is why so many have been sold off or demolished. A large part of this project will be to show through drawings, the changes these buildings have undergone through their life, meaning what has been added or removed over time. With many of the older buildings, they started out small. So the need is for more classroom spaces. I believe this one had a sufficient number to begin with. Also, there were challenges when program requirements changed, such as when multiple wards started meeting in a building. All of a sudden, each building now needed two or three sets of bishop offices instead of one. And eventually clerks started having their own offices, etc.

      Ultimately, the answer to your question is yes, it is possible to have a nice building that you repeat over and over again. A similar battle can be seen with residential housing in America. Why haven’t we been repeating beautiful homes in suburban neighborhoods? Great examples exist of what could have been done – take a look at some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses. They are beautiful and were designed with the intent of designing a home that met the needs of a family and that could be repeated. So it is definitely possible to do. My theory is that the LDS church meetinghouse program has followed exactly the formula used for home building in America. And I will be writing a lot more on this in the future.

      April 21, 2011 at 8:03 am

      • seshat

        Thanks so much for the thoughtful response! I have yet another question: I don’t understand how a building can be devoid of articulation. Does that mean it would be just a box? I’m an admirer rather than a student of architecture, and I think I’m failing to grasp what articulation means as an architectural term, or at least missing something about how you’re using it. I did look it up and read about it…. can you recommend a better source than wikipedia for understanding this concept?

        Also, since the primary meanings of articulation has to do with speech, do you have any ideas about architectural articulation factors in to the desire to communicate I asked about in the comment below?

        April 21, 2011 at 9:51 am

  2. seshat

    I hope I’m not exceeding my comment quota and violating blog decorum here, but just now a song came up on my itunes that is relevant to this topic–“Wild” by Poe, aka Anne Danielewski, who grew up in Provo because her dad, Tad Danielewski, taught film at BYU as one of the few non-Mormon there.

    Anyway, at the very end of this very long song, there’s a snippet of dialogue from Poe’s father:

    Communication is more than just words, communication is architecture, because of course it is quite obvious that a house which would be built without that will, that desire to communicate, would not look the way your house looks today.

    I would love to see you discuss here or elsewhere on how communication is architecture, and how a desire to communicate is and is not evident and fostered in LDS architecture.

    April 9, 2011 at 10:26 am

  3. Nicole

    As someone who has been in the ward that meets here in the recent past, the building functions quite well. The biggest problem is probably the lack of parking (with exactly zero dedicated spots). Although the chapel is strategically placed near several major transit routes (including a Muni train), even in SF most Mormons want to bring the car/van on Sunday.

    I love that you posted the chapel picture with the light streaming in. In the outer Sunset, you need as much sunlight as you can possibly get when it is not foggy, and it is wonderful that those windows are there.

    January 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm

  4. Steven Fehr

    Another photo I have of my mom was taken on these steps (I believe), but the arch above the main entry has a bas relief sculpture or painting of Joseph Smith on his knee with the Bible and the quote from James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God.” If it is the same archway, obviously the artwork was replaced with the glass that is there now. I wonder if anyone can confirm that this artwork once existed in the archway.

    August 4, 2014 at 1:51 am

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