Spoiler: The Idaho Falls Temple
Today I showed my wife this picture and asked her what came to mind.
“It kind of looks like a Mormon temple pagoda,” she said.
“I think so, too!” I said. “But why does it look Mormon?”
The image is from a book called Temples of the Imagination: AI-generated Temples, Human-generated Insights, by Jeffrey Thayne and Nathan Richardson. The chapter the image appears in is called “Imaginary Latter-day Saint Temples Inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender.” To assemble the book, Thayne and Richardson used Midjourney to generate images of imaginary LDS Temples inspired by various fantasy worlds, such as Star Wars, Narnia, Star Trek, Middle Earth, and “the future.”
And, indeed, as I looked through the book, I recognized 90 percent of the buildings as seeming somehow LDS.
Which brought up an interesting question. After analyzing probably millions of images of LDS temples, what does an LDS temple “look like” to AI? And why are the temples it creates recognizable to Mormons?
Especially the Mormon temple pagoda.
When I asked my wife to explain her reasoning, she said, “It’s the white stone pillars, the layers, and the great big steeple. Together, they just seem really Mormon.”
After looking through the book many times, I saw that her observations held up well. Most of them can be summed up in this image, which the authors identify as being particularly reminiscent of an LDS temple.
It has an outsized center steeple, so the building’s overall shape is a triangle. It has hard lines. It seems made of stone. It has long, thin, high, arched windows. And it is built in layers, like a wedding cake.
Ninety-five percent of the buildings in the book are shaped like triangles, with an outsized center steeple. Almost all of them are built in layers, and the “LDS” parts of the fantasy temples can be recognized either by their prominent center steeple or the hard-lined, stone elements.
What this means is that the building that rules AI’s (and apparently Mormons’) idea of what a temple “looks like” is (drum roll) the Idaho Falls Temple.
It was the first temple to take on this triangle shape with an outsized center steeple.[i]
Later, the Oakland Temple introduced multiple steeples to the basic triangle shape.
And it looks like the Buenos Aires Temple was the first to sport the long, thin, high, arched windows.
Along with the hard-lined stone material all those buildings share, those are the things that make an LDS temple according to AI. Whether they’re built into a pagoda or a hobbit hole. Take a look.
[i] I’d say the second most influential temple on AI is the Kirtland Temple when seen from the front. It, too, has a triangle shape with a central steeple, but with the steeple set at the front of the building. Probably 20 percent of the AI temples placed the steeple toward the front of the building.