Standardized Meetinghouses Give a Place for More Members to Meet and Worship


In Hong Kong and New York City—cities of skyscrapers—often the only direction to build is up. Looking at both cities’ temples, one can see that an innovative approach had to be taken in order to fit the temples into these urban areas. Similarly, where a traditional meetinghouse layout is not practical, members must still be accommodated.

In areas where land is at a premium, a typical meetinghouse layout must be adjusted to fit a smaller plot of land. Both New York City and Hong Kong have recently received new multistory meetinghouses based on the Church’s worldwide meetinghouse standard plan program.

Rolling Out a Standard Plan

Whether large or small, multistory or not, regardless of location, meetinghouses throughout the world all have a standard look based on design guidelines set forth by the Church.

In 2002 the Church released guidelines to areas throughout the world for a general design of Church meetinghouses. This plan, the worldwide standard plan, provides essential elements and general layouts for meetinghouses to meet the needs of rural, suburban, and urban areas. The plan establishes a universal look for Church meetinghouses while still allowing for the detail work to be customized for a particular area. As part of the worldwide standard plan program, a new consistent model for urban meetinghouses was established. It is a unique multistory design that ranges from two to five stories but still leaves room for diversity in design.

In creating the plan, Church architects carefully evaluated the needs of units of various demographics. The capacity of the chapel, the classrooms, and the Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women rooms were then planned accordingly, taking into account the fact that the size of a Relief Society, Primary, or other organization may be above average for a given congregation.

Under the worldwide standard plan program, most building options can be expanded according to growth. If substantial growth is anticipated in an area, a “phased” building may be built. When the need arises to expand the building to accommodate larger or additional wards, the original building can be added to, with each phase being added like another puzzle piece. For example, in phase one a chapel may be “multiuse” with removable seats. Phase two would add a cultural hall and additional classrooms, making the chapel of singular use with fixed pews.

The program establishes a uniform look for the Church and a way for meetinghouses to be built more efficiently and economically.

An example of this efficiency is reflected along the Wasatch Front in Utah, where the Church continues to build a large number of meetinghouses to accommodate growth. Standardization has cut building costs by as much as 20 percent.

“These are sacred tithing funds, and we are trying to stretch them as far as possible,” says Randy Stenson, a manager in the Architecture and Engineering Division of the Church Physical Facilities Department.

President Gordon B. Hinckley has said of the standard meetinghouse plans: “This tremendous building program is phenomenal. I know of nothing equal to it. Our structures are beautiful. … We have had long experience in constructing houses of worship, and out of that vast experience we are producing better buildings than have ever previously been constructed in the Church. They combine beauty with great utility. If they look much the same, it is because that is intended. By following tried and tested patterns we save millions of dollars while meeting the needs of our people” (“Condition of the Church,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2004, 4).

Implementing the Plan

Brother Stenson says the worldwide standard plan program provides design guidelines and conceptual floor plans to local architects hired by the Church to build a meetinghouse in a particular area. These become the framework around which are created plans unique to the area and its needs. The details are decided locally, such as what materials will be used and whether the building will have a natural or mechanical ventilation system.

Wherever a meetinghouse is built, certain considerations must be made in creating the look and feel of the building. An architect must take into account the culture, the surroundings, and the building regulations of a particular area.

Areas often adapt a building’s look to blend in with its surroundings or to establish a certain image. A meetinghouse in Eastern Europe may be entirely different than one in the Australian outback, while both plans follow the same guidelines and principles set forth in the worldwide standard plan program.

Some customization may be necessary based on a particular site. Brother Stenson says location is a very important consideration.

“We would rather choose the right site and adapt our plan to it than choose the wrong site and use the standard plan,” he says. “The right site is key to exposure to the Church and accessibility by the Saints in getting to that site.”

Meeting Urban Needs

In some urban areas, a multistory building is more practical than a single level meetinghouse. Where an average meetinghouse is built on 2 1/2 to 5 acres (1 to 2 ha), these multistory meetinghouses are approximately 43 feet (13 m) wide and can fit on a plot of land as small as a quarter of an acre (.1 ha). Multistory meetinghouses are composed of the same number of rooms with the same capacity as single-level meetinghouses housing units of comparable sizes, but they are simply built in a vertical fashion. They are being built in cities across the world to provide facilities sufficient to meet the needs of Saints in urban areas.

In New York City, members in Harlem were meeting in a marginal industrial building. A new five-story building was approved, with room to accommodate anticipated growth in the unfinished upper two levels. In Japan, a three-story meetinghouse was built recently. The building’s design allows for the construction of additional floors if the need arises.

A five-story layout may consist of parking on the first level, the chapel on the second, classrooms and offices on the third and fourth levels, and a cultural center on the fifth level.

For the multistory meetinghouse, architects at Church headquarters knew that they needed to use elements that would identify the building as a church rather than an office building and would provide a consistent, ecclesiastical look for the Church. They studied classics in ecclesiastical architecture, including historic temples and cathedrals. From those buildings, key design elements of a religious nature were established as standard items for the multistory meetinghouse, says Wayne Balle, worldwide meetinghouse client manager for the Architecture and Engineering Division.

Those essential elements include, for example, a tower and steeple, a distinctive front window, a distinctive entry, a pronounced base, and the Church logo sign. Area architects then determine their approach to the core elements, the structure, the materials, the colors, and other details as appropriate.

Meetinghouses as a Place of Worship

Brother Balle says that regardless of a meetinghouse’s style, height, or location, the worldwide standard plan program is meant to help the Church’s Physical Facilities Department fulfill its purpose to “serve priesthood leaders by providing them with temples, meetinghouses, and other facilities for their use to help bring souls unto Christ.”

[illustration] Multistory buildings based on the worldwide meetinghouse standard plan program may look like this rendering.

[illustration] Church architects identified elements of famous religious buildings that help identify a structure as religious in nature.