“Tours” of the new Mormon Temple in Philadelphia are now being offered to the public free of charge until the official dedication in September. Lasting about an hour, they are preceded by a 10 minute inspirational film that sets the mood for presentations to follow.
“Tour” isn’t exactly the proper term here. Yes, we are guided through the new space while our hosts, different ones in each room, briefly explain what each is used for. The main thrust of their talk, however, is concerned with devotion, baptism, the afterlife, the joys of belonging to the Temple and personal anecdotes about their faith. I’ll limit myself here to the space itself.
The overall impression is of an immaculate, pristine space in which nary a paint roller brush stroke, crooked line or imperfect miter appears. Every single wall, be they granite or drywall, is perfect. Not a single seam wavers. Switch plate covers are perfectly aligned. Banisters and railings are all perfectly joined and silken to the touch. Visitors are given booties to preserve the mostly lily-white carpeting, marble and hardwood flooring. Everything sparkles from the enormous chandeliers to stained-glass windows.
And the place has as much character as a convention hotel.
Worse are the awful paintings that adorn nearly every wall and corridor. Many look as if they’ve been acquired from the firms that supply motel chains. Badly painted and generic, they seem to be after thoughts intended to break up the monotony of the endless perfection. Reproduction furniture abounds. The atmosphere resembles a mortuary.
The exterior of the building makes no pretense of being modern. Indeed, it is unabashedly retrograde without ever defining any particular style. There are plenty of classical elements to go around, all the more to establish pedigree and tradition. There are occasional elements suggesting the Baroque and some that even attempt to evoke the 18th Century colonial traditions of Philadelphia. In other words, it is a pastiche pure and simple.
The colors of the walls are almost all a variation on white or beige, soothing to the point of boredom. There are no really grand halls though a few have soaring ceilings. There are, however, dozens of small rooms, like breakout conference rooms in any of a 1000 corporate centers and hotels.
A baptismal font set on 12 bronzed oxen representing the twelve tribes of Israel is perhaps the most soothing room of all because unlike nearly every other space in the temple, one looks down, not up or across, into the cool, inviting water. This view is small consolation for an otherwise forgettable experience.