You can’t not notice the otherworldly metallic spire. Rising three hundred feet into the sky, soaring above the Mayberry-esque downtown of Independence, Missouri, it’s meant to be seen.
Built for the Community of Christ church, which has roots in Mormonism, the temple’s dramatic shape was inspired by various shell shapes, most specifically the nautilus.
Construction began in the spring of 1990 and was completed four years later, in 1994. At the time it was built, the temple had the third-largest stainless steel roof in the United States, measuring some eighty thousand square feet.
The temple was constructed before computers were used in the field, so the steel pieces were measured and cut as the building inched upward.
Workers were high up on catwalks, installing the metal pieces and then measuring for the next one. They would use walkie-talkies to relay information to the engineers below. The pieces would then be cut and lifted into place.
Church congregants knew what they wanted, but it was architect Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum in St. Louis, now known as HOK, and the Kansas City engineering firm Zahner, that were able to bring the concept to fruition.
Church records indicate that creating a sanctuary using a spiral shape as its focal point was bandied about as early as the 1920s and ‘30s. “A group of women called the Temple Builders promoted construction of the Temple using the spiral concept,” says church spokesperson Elaine Garrison.
For the church, the temple’s spire represents many elements of both an inward and outward spiritual journey.
The early 1990s construction of the temple was the “first to literally represent the Fibonacci sequence, first described by Leonardo of Pisa, a 13th-century Italian mathematician,” Garrison says. The Fibonacci sequence is when each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers, a pattern found throughout nature and the inside of a nautilus shell.
Groups of architecture and engineering students often tour the award-winning facility, which is also the Church’s international headquarters, Garrison says.
A fundraising campaign was kicked off at the Community of Christ’s world conference in 1988 to fund the future temple. In the end, more than twenty-eight thousand financial commitments from people around the world raised the $35 million needed to build the temple.
Temple tours must be scheduled in advance at cofchrist.org.