Building the Kingdom of God: Mormon Architecture before 1847

The first seventeen years of Mormonism—from its organization in 1830 until the entrance of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847—have not received the attention they deserve in studies of Mormon architecture and planning. The period produced few “church” buildings, and the two major ecclesiastical buildings constructed during the period, the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples, were functionally very different from later Mormon buildings. Even the plan for the City of Zion in Missouri contained elements foreign to the Mormon village plan used in the colonization of the Great Basin.

In reality, this was a period of tremendous development in Mormon architecture as Church leaders struggled to find how to build the physical kingdom of God. The answers they found incorporated both their former building traditions and current Church doctrines. The period produced a number of buildings that mirrored evolving Church organization and doctrine, a model that became pervasive for nineteenth-century Mormon building, and a theory of architecture, which, while not entirely articulated, has influenced the design of Mormon buildings to the present. Mormon architectural theory and practice changed dramatically during these early years and by 1847 had produced the elements that served as the foundation for later Mormon architecture.

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