LDS Conference Center Welcomes the Faithful
In addition to the main auditorium, with its record-breaking capacity, the conference center also contains a 900-seat theater and an underground 1,400-car parking structure.
A Public Accommodation
Unlike the temple and other fixtures of the faith that fill Temple Square in the block across the street, the conference center and all surrounding plaza and grounds are open to the public.
The design team, which includes Philadelphia-based Olin Partnership as landscape architect, chose to mold the enormous mass of the center into a kind of land form, a plateau on which to climb, stroll, linger and look out.
Every day, thousands of church members and visitors stream up and down the ramps, look down from the terraces and explore the features of the four-acre (1.6-hectare) park on the roof.
A series of strategic focal points and the accessible majesty of the facade invite crowds to the top to commune with the peaks of the Wasatch Mountains, the nearby dome of the state capitol building, and the skyline of Salt Lake City.
The entire composition resonates with ancient temple forms and cultures. It might be at home in a Near Eastern desert or in a Mesoamerican jungle. Design principal Robert Frasca worked with Philadelphia landscape architect Laurie Olin to shape the imposing mass and orchestrate a series of outdoor experiences on the site.
The expanse of reinforced concrete, sculpted and terraced into a base for water features and plantings, also brings to mind recent feats of engineering such as the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle.
The closely ranked and deeply recessed windows and the peristyle-like entrances bring plenty of filtered light into the public areas of the complex while reinforcing the monumentality of the building.
Building as Landform
Given the scale and complexity of the conference center and the need for contextual sensitivity, it would be practically impossible to produce a design that reads as a geometric whole.
Instead, the massing and directional features combine as a kind of monumental village, a city of God. The main auditorium is wedged into one corner of the block, while the opposite corner is eroded to accommodate a street-level open space and entrances to the complex.
The east and west sides of the conference center are designed to reflect the nearby mountain scenery, stepping down in a series of tiers planted with alpine trees and ground cover.
As part of the project, Olin and LDS senior landscape architect Mark Williams also worked with the city to daylight a long-buried creek that runs between the conference center and Temple Square.
One of the primary design goals for the center was to avoid overwhelming the temple and other buildings on the adjacent historic square. As if directing the ebb and flow of the daily crowds, a tower at the edge of the mesa and at the center of the south side of the block acts as a landmark, a focal point, and a beacon of light.
The tower's assertive verticality and diminutive size, in relation to the entire building, serves to emphasize the mass of the conference center as a land form, while minimizing its overall architectural presence.
The theme of the project is "Light and Truth," says Gray. There are no specific metaphors in the elements of the building or landscape, he adds, but rather a "powerful geometry that allowed us to produce a focus on the temple."
The tower, lined up with a water feature cutting down through the facade below and a pair of gate-like beacons at the edge of the street, are all on axis with a wide walkway that runs through the center of Temple Square, between the temple itself and the Mormon Tabernacle and assembly building.
Directly across from the temple entrance is the main entrance to the conference center, projecting out from the building in a kind of portico consistent with the recessed windows in the structure.
The focal points and well marked approaches to the conference center and roof park serve to emphasize the primacy of the fixtures on Temple Square, while organizing the expanse of the conference center facade.
The entire block now functions as a city park. Church and city collaborated to make it a public amenity and an attractive destination. From its various promontories, visitors take in the sweeping views.
Gray is looking forward to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, confident that the conference center will have a role to play.