When plans were laid for a temple atop a heavily wooded plot of fifty-seven acres in Kensington, Maryland, special care went into its design: Church leaders knew it would visually represent the Church to thousands of leaders and visitors who come from around the world to the nation’s capital. They knew it Would stand as a symbol—a symbol of the Church, a symbol of the plan of salvation, a symbol of eternity.
Trying to capture the very essence of the gospel in form and structure is an awesome challenge. Four distinguished LDS architects were asked to work together in creating a design under the general direction of Church Architect Emil B. Fetzer. Fred L. Markham, Henry P. Fetzer, Harold K. Beecher, and Keith W. Wilcox pooled their talents and inspiration, submitting many designs to the First Presidency. Brother Wilcox’s design was selected, but the four architects continued to collaborate on the myriad details necessary in planning a temple. The approved design was a spiritual echo of the architectural symbol of Mormonism, the Salt Lake Temple. The striking six-towered edifice, rising 288 feet above the thickly wooded hillside, provides a dramatic view from the nearby freeway.
Faced in white Alabama marble, the temple symbolizes purity and enlightenment. White marble shaved to 5/8 of an inch partially covers the window openings, retaining the beauty of unbroken marble on the exterior and emitting a warmly glowing light inside. On the tower ends are W-shaped panels of faceted glass, seven-feet wide, running in a solid blaze of color and light from the ground to the top of the temple. According to Brother Henry Fetzer, “the colors near the ground are rich and vibrant—reds and oranges—but as they rise, they give way to clearer tones: blue, violet, and finally white. The change symbolizes the purity and clarity that enter a person’s life as he leaves earthly concerns and aspires toward heavenly matters. The unbroken line of the window rising continuously to the top of the temple is a reminder of the unbroken progress that is possible in the gospel.” 1
Six dramatic gold spires symbolize some of the offices of the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods; the seven floors represent the six days of creation and the day of rest. Many multiples of three, the number of the Godhead, reappear in the temple design. Avard Fairbanks’s Angel Moroni, eighteen feet tall and gold leafed, tops the tallest spire, a reminder of the ministry of angels that signaled the Restoration.
To enter the temple, members cross a bridge arching between the annex and the entrance, symbolically leaving their worldly cares and entering the Lord’s house. Symbolizing the creation, mortality, and the degrees of glory are eight bronze medallions on the gates and eight on the doors. Here Latter-day Saint sculptor Franz Johansen has portrayed the Big Dipper and North Star, the earth, the planets, the moon, the stars, the sun, concentric circles representing eternity, and seven concentric pentagons representing the seven dispensations.
More important than the architectural symbols, however, are the truths taught within the temples of our Lord. The temple endowment reveals how Adam and Eve fell from the presence of God, struggled in the world, and received through revelation the keys that would allow them to return to God. Their experiences are representative of our own sojourn on earth. The symbols in the temple’s architecture can only hint at the eternal, glorified symbols within. Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote, “We live in a world of symbols. No man or woman can come out of the temple endowed as he should be, unless he has seen, beyond the symbol, the mighty realities for which the symbols stand.” 2 —