Inside Church Headquarters: The location, design and construction of Latter-day Saint temples

How are temple locations identified? The Presiding Bishopric answers this and other questions about temples

Editor’s note: This is the next part of an Inside Church Headquarters series on the Presiding Bishopric.

Dressed in hard hats and yellow vests, the Presiding Bishopric of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints surveyed the construction of the Layton Utah Temple and commented on the vast number of temples being built across the world. 

“We want to pay tribute to the thousands of workers, architects and technicians that are working on these temples,” said Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé. “They are people with great skills and professional experience. At the same time, they are truly involved in that work as a spiritual work. When you come here, you feel that Spirit. It’s not a regular construction site; it’s a special one.”

The Layton Utah Temple is one of 54 temples under construction. Since becoming President of the Church in January 2018, President Russell M. Nelson has announced 118 temples, bringing the total to 300 temples that are dedicated, under construction or announced. 

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“As a bishopric, we focus a lot on the design of temples, on the physical aspects, but that’s not the most important part,” Bishop Caussé said. “The important part is what happens inside the temple when it is dedicated — the ordinances, the covenants, the people.”

The Presiding Bishopric tours the Layton Utah Temple in Layton, Utah, on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Above each temple’s door frame are the words “House of the Lord” and “Holiness to the Lord.”

“It truly is His house,” said Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. “Everything about the temple points us to Jesus Christ. The purpose of the temple is to help draw us closer to Him.”

Bishop L. Todd Budge, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, pointed to what President Nelson has said about building temples: It is easier to build a temple than it is to build a temple-worthy people. 

“That’s the main objective — to help build a Zion people, to help build a people who are prepared for the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Bishop Budge said of building temples. 

With a large number of temples being built across the world, the Presiding Bishopric spoke to the Church News as part of the Inside Church Headquarters series about how these sacred edifices are identified, designed and constructed.

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Importance of proximity 

Every time Bishop Caussé sees a Latter-day Saint temple, he is reminded of traveling to the Swiss Temple with his parents as a young man once a year. He remembers the journey taking about two days from where they lived in southern France.

“Today I can go to a temple anytime,” said Bishop Caussé, who lives near Salt Lake City. “Temples are less than 15 minutes from my home. I can see a few of them even from the place where I live.”

Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, center; Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, left, first counselor; and Bishop L. Todd Budge, second counselor, are interviewed at the Layton Utah Temple in Layton, Utah, on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Bishop Budge said proximity to Church members is one of the key considerations in determining a temple location. Over 85% of Latter-day Saints now live within 200 miles of a temple. For many, that distance is much shorter.

“President Nelson wants temple worship to become a normal part of our worship, not something that we do once a year, or every six months, but something that we do on a much more regular basis,” Bishop Budge said. 

At the close of October 2022 general conference, President Nelson announced 18 new temple locations — including four near Mexico City. Prior to announcing those four, he said: “We are … planning to build multiple temples in selected large metropolitan areas where travel time to an existing temple is a major challenge.”

President Nelson has taught that temple attendance strengthens one’s spiritual foundation and helps maintain positive spiritual momentum

Bishop Budge added: “He mentioned that as we keep our temple covenants, we are strengthened with God’s power. To me, when I think of temples … it’s about God’s power and receiving that power in our lives every day.”

How are temple locations identified?

Bishop Waddell explained that under the direction of the First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric works closely with the Church’s Temple Department to build and maintain temples.

The First Presidency outlines criteria for determining where temples should be built, including the numbers of members within an area and the distances they travel to attend a temple. 

Based on that criteria, the Temple Department — which is overseen by two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — makes suggestions to the First Presidency of possible temple locations. 

“The First Presidency will then make the final determination of where temples should be built,” Bishop Waddell said. 

The Presiding Bishopric tours the Layton Utah Temple in Layton, Utah, on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, with representatives of the Presiding Bishopric’s Special Projects Department. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Presiding Bishopric and its Special Projects Department identify a specific site within that location and recommend it to the First Presidency. In most cases, once the location and site have been identified, the temple is announced by the First Presidency to the public, usually in general conference. 

With a site determined, the Presiding Bishopric and Special Projects Department propose designs to the First Presidency. Once approved, construction begins on the temple.

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 Once a temple is dedicated, Bishop Caussé said, “we have responsibility for the maintenance of the temple.”

While the Presiding Bishopric maintains the temple, the role of the Temple Department is to support the temple presidencies — ensuring that temple ordinances are performed and recorded according to standards established by the First Presidency and that patrons have uplifting and edifying experiences. 

Streamlining temple construction

With a large number of temples under construction “we have some beautiful plans that have been authorized by the First Presidency that we refer to as ‘core plans’ that vary in square footage,” explained Bishop Waddell.

“Because of those core plans, the design time to construct a temple has been shortened from about 18 months down to about six or seven months. And so it’s much faster to get a temple into the construction process, which saves money and time,” he said. 

Bishop Budge said though the floor plans of some temples are the same, “you wouldn’t know it when you look at the temples. Each temple is unique and different in the exterior and interior finishes. And we construct the temples using a variety of local materials … and architectural themes that are consistent with the culture and the people of the area.”

The Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple, for example, was designed with an Art Deco influence to fit with the surrounding architecture. The exterior is covered with granite quarried in northeastern Brazil, the same stone used on the Recife, Campinas and Fortaleza Brazil temples.

The Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Thursday, May 5, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

To better serve members in less populated areas, some new temples are being constructed with the flexibility to interchange rooms. 

“We have what we call flexible plans,” Bishop Caussé said. “This is mostly for our temples with less square footage. … To offer maximum capacity to the members, we have that flexible use of a number of rooms within the temple. For example, a sealing room could be used as an instruction room or an instruction room can be used as a sealing room.”

Both the Yigo Guam Temple and the Praia Cape Verde Temple — which were dedicated five weeks apart earlier this year — have this flexibility.

Bishop Waddell pointed out that though temples range in size, “there is absolutely no difference in what takes place in the temple.” The same ordinances and covenants are made no matter the size of the temple. 

‘Expect miracles’

Temples “are truly holy places,” Bishop Budge said. He quoted an invitation President Nelson extended during April 2022 general conference in relation to maintaining spiritual momentum: “Expect miracles.”

“Temples really are a miracle,” Bishop Budge said. “Every time I’m in a temple or see a temple, I think ‘What a miracle.’ This is fulfillment of prophecy, that temples would one day dot the earth. And we’re seeing that fulfilled right before our eyes today. Temples are a holy, sacred place, and they are miracles in our lives.”

Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, center; Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, left, first counselor; and Bishop L. Todd Budge, right, second counselor, tour the under-renovation Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City. | Provided by the Presiding Bishopric

Bishop Caussé added: “I think there are so many instances that the three of us could say, ‘We can testify it is a miracle.’ We see miracles happening all the time, with finding sites for temples, in the way that we obtain permission to build, the way it is then built.

“I had many experiences in my life when I stood in front of a temple, knowing the whole story of how the temple was built. I had a prayer of gratitude in my heart. None of us can say, ‘I did it,’ because we all know the Lord did it. It fills us with a lot of humility.”

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More about the Presiding Bishopric series

This Inside Church Headquarters series features the Presiding Bishopric, who work under the direction of the First Presidency to oversee the temporal affairs of the Church. The series includes:

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