In honor of the Open House and subsequent consecration of the new Paris Temple, we wanted to pull together a little post on it. Trouble is, how do you put into words the culmination of years of intense work and anticipation? It’s proven very difficult to describe, so, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll (or March Hare, depending on whom you ask): we’ll start at the beginning.
It was 2011 when we first became acquainted with the project. None of this would have been possible without leadership within the Temple Department from Brad Houston, who made an incredible impact on Temple Design for a 5 year stretch, guiding it toward a Classical and Traditional idiom, with emphasis on respect for the culture and artistic traditions of the location for each temple. It was his guidance of design direction that facilitated a connection with our friends at MHTN Architects who were designing the long-awaited Temple.
It was a true privilege to be asked to design the Interior Architecture of the “main rooms” of the Temple. By “main rooms” we mean the Grand Stair Hall, the Ordinance Rooms, the Celestial Room, the Sealing Rooms, and the Baptistry, which you can learn more about here. Our work included the art glass ceilings in the Stair Hall and Baptistry;
The Stair Hall and Baptistry railings;
Columns, doors, cased openings, keystones, overdoors, and ceiling medallions;
Decorative painting; wall paneling; door and furniture profiles; mouldings & trim; reflected ceiling plans; the baptismal font itself;
And parts of the furniture like the carved details for the altars and end panels;
As well as designing a number of other significant elements, including the exterior doors and hardware;
And most notably, the art glass windows in all areas of the Temple.
The design influences are based in the Classical and French Art Nouveau, commonly seen side-by-side in Paris, and elsewhere in France.
The Floral Designs
A hallmark of the Art Nouveau, we conceived the floral designs to explicitly root the Temple in France. Our goal was the “gesamtkunstwerk” – the “total work of art” or “synthesis of the arts” where all architectural elements and details work in unison to elevate the whole.
There are countless artisans and artists who contributed to the beauty found in the building. Some we will sadly never meet. Others we had the pleasure of working with, including the talented Tom Holdman and his team of artisans in Utah and Mexico who executed the art glass designs. They brought wonderful suggestions for color and finish to the glass, including using gorgeous opalescent glass from Kokomo Opalescent Glass (KOG) in Indiana (operating since 1888).
We thought KOG was a great suggestion knowing that they won a Gold Medal for their window, awarded at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle which was designed by John La Farge, who incidentally invented opalescent glass. Matt is the Chair of the Preservation Committee for the Auxiliary Board of the Auditorium Theatre here in Chicago, and knew that KOG also provided some of the glass for the windows that won the Silver Medal at the same Paris Exposition, which were designed by Healy & Millet for the Auditorium Theatre.
According to Chicago Historian (and friend) Rolf Achilles, the Healy & Millet windows also won the “Purchase Prize” to be exhibited in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. It’s a much longer story, but the short version is that these windows were subsequently seen by the men who became the foremost European Art Nouveau artists & architects, and, along with some additional exposure for opalescent glass via Siegfried Bing, KOG received thousands of orders for their glass, which was used in Art Nouveau buildings all over France and Europe, and now, in the Paris Temple as well. Of course we are very happy to have furthered the Paris – Chicago – Art Nouveau – Art Glass connection!
We chose specific flowers as a thematic basis for each room, and used others as a leitmotif. These include Lavender, the Martagon Lily, the Water Lily, the Cornflower, the Lilac, the Hollyhock, and the Madonna Lily.
Lavender represents love, devotion, and cleanliness.
On the stem, the Martagon Lily represents immortality, and used alone it is purity and innocence.
The Water Lily is emblematic of rebirth.
The Cornflower represents blessedness, hope in love, and friendship, but we also chose it for the special significance it has in France, being a National Symbol of Remembrance and the eternal symbol of those who died for France in The Great War (WWI). Every year fabric versions are sold to fund the care of veterans. Read more about it’s national significance here.
The Lilac represents Christianity and rebirth, as it often blooms around Easter.
The Hollyhock represents generosity, beneficialness, and plenitude, in addition to being a metaphor for spiritual development, as they require full sun to grow and develop.
The Madonna Lily represents purity, virtue, faith, and wisdom. Additionally it is often described as the basis for the Fleur-de-Lis, the National Symbol of France.
Our designs were inspired by the flora of the French countryside and our window motifs reference the work of the incredible French glass artists of the past, including Jacques Gruber, Emile Galle, Desire Christian, Les Frères Daum, and Albert Dammouse, among others.
In the design of the glass, Matt also referenced his own personal sketches from the garden of his family in Sussargues, France – made 10 years prior to the work on the Temple. You never know when old sketches will come in handy! Of course it is hard to produce such designs without inspiration from John La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany as well.
The progression of the flowers within the windows is a metaphor for a faith-filled experience – starting at the base of the windows there are only buds, representing potential.
As the eye travels up the windows the buds begin to open and culminate in a full bloom at the top.
The upward growth is a metaphor for moving toward the light, the ultimate goal of faith being to grow closest to God, and the full blossom represents the fulfillment of potential. The blossoms also gather together as they bloom, representative of the shared experience.
The windows are designed to be seen together, across the multiple floor levels, from the exterior…
…which, as we intended, really comes to life after sunset.
Before the Open House began, we were invited on a “VIP” tour with members of Church Leadership, and visited on the 11th of April. The photos truly do the building no justice. The rooms are ethereal and there’s an incredible sense of peace and grace in the building.
The entire building is so wonderful that there were moments we were moved to tears. Apparently we were not alone, as we heard more than a few stories of the tears visitors have already shed (of joy!). This is our hope for the years to come, that the beauty here exalts a mundane day into a magnificent one and continues to touch people on an emotional level.