Remodeled Georgia Atlanta Temple features exotic materials, natural light

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Atlanta’s newly-refurbished Mormon temple incorporates materials from around the world to create a structure that is as pleasing to the eye as it is functional.

Atlanta Georgia Temple.
Atlanta Georgia Temple. | IRI

The Barfield Road landmark, located just off of Abernathy Road near Perimeter Mall—and easily recognizable by the golden statue of the Angel Moroni that tops its spire — was originally dedicated on June 1, 1983. It was closed in July of 2009 for extensive renovations.

“The building was tired and out of date,” said Temple Engineer Mark Romney. “Its finishes were 25 years old.” He noted that the mechanical and electrical systems also needed updating, and that Church architects wanted to add a modern sprinkler system and bring the structure more fully into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The building has been well-used,” Brother Romney said, estimating that over 2.5 million patrons have entered the facility since its dedication. The Atlanta Georgia Temple currently serves about 50,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 16 stakes, mostly in Georgia.

In LDS parlance, “stakes” are geographical units, similar to parishes. Church members are commonly known as “Mormons” because of their belief in The Book of Mormon, a volume of ancient scripture they regard as a companion piece to The Holy Bible.

When it was first constructed, the Atlanta temple served Church members throughout the southeast. Since then, however, its district has contracted significantly as new temples have been built in Orlando, Fla., Nashville, Tenn., Raleigh, N.C., Columbia, S.C., Louisville, Ky., and Baton Rouge, La. There are currently 134 LDS temples operating around the world, with 26 announced or under construction.

Temples are often confused with local meeting houses, where Latter-Day Saints gather to worship on Sundays. Those Sunday services are open to anyone, and visitors are expressly welcome. Temples are reserved for LDS wedding ceremonies and for the performance of other religious ordinances sacred to Church members. Once a temple is dedicated, only members of the Church in good standing may enter.

When a new temple first opens, however—or, in this case, re-opens—the Church traditionally hosts an open house, to which the entire community is invited. The Atlanta temple open house will be held from April 9 through April 23, Sundays excluded, before the building is re-dedicated on May 1. Church members and non-members alike will have an opportunity to participate in guided tours and, if they wish, to learn more about temples, the Church and its beliefs.

What visitors will see is likely to impress. According to Brother Romney, the Church spared no effort or expense to create an edifice worthy of its lofty purpose.

“Before we even closed the building and began the renovation, every last detail was designed in 3-D first, using the latest architectural software,” Brother Romney said. “And no finish was allowed into the building unless we had seen a sample first. That meant companies had to send mock-ups of the wood molding, the stonework, the art glass for the windows — everything.”

The results of this attention to detail are immediately apparent. The elaborate etching on the glass windows of the entry way, for example, create a theme that is repeated throughout the building — in the carpets, in the wood and stone work, even in the door handles and air-conditioning grates.

The renovation was completed using materials gathered from the four corners of the globe: lyptus wood from Brazil, marble from Italy and Pakistan, rugs of New Zealand wool woven in Hong Kong, furniture fabrics from Spain, glass from Orem, Utah.

One of the building’s most notable features, a 650-pound chandelier that graces the celestial room, is constructed of 40,000 Swarovski crystals from Wattens, Austria. Each piece was hand-hung by one of the more than 500 volunteers, mostly local Church members, who helped work on the renovation.

The interior of the building is also adorned with dozens of art works, most depicting Jesus Christ, including original paintings by Frank Magelby and Linda Curley Christensen. An elaborate mural covering the walls of the “Creation Room” is a reproduction of one painted by Christensen that now hangs in the Helsinki, Finland LDS Temple.

The renovated structure even pays homage to its roots. New uses were found for many of the original building materials, including a piece of stonework that was fashioned into a podium for the chapel. Crystal from celestial room’s old chandelier was ground up and used to create the new room’s striking art glass.

Although the inside of the building was completely gutted, the only significant structural change involved the ceiling of the celestial room — an interior space — which was raised six feet in order to add windows and introduce natural light. Additional windows were cut into external walls, wherever possible, for the same purpose. The effect is one of light mingling with beauty and elegance—a fitting motif for a building of this type.

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