Despite our modern, urban centric idolization of great works of architecture, an extraordinary rural gem can be found discretely tucked away in a secluded corner of Northwest Arkansas. Nestled amongst the rugged Ozark Mountains inconspicuously lies one of the great architectural masterpieces of the 20th century; Thorncrown Chapel.
Designed by architect by E. Faye Jones, Thorncrown Chapel has been lauded as one of the finest works of American architecture in the last century. Our trip to Arkansas presented us with the rare opportunity to visit this masterpiece, found just outside of the peculiar town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
The most defining characteristic of Thorncrown Chapel is an omnipresent feeling of “lightness”, amplified by tactful attention to verticality. Expansive glass, delicate trusses and slender columns stand in stark contrast to traditional churches typically burdened by monolithic stone and heavy wood. Jones attention to airy detail is evident throughout the structure, to the extent that his construction plans decreed “no structural element could be larger than what two men could carry through the woods.”
A remarkable composition of wood, stone and glass, Thorncrown is as much a religious edifice as an exquisite showcase of meticulous detail and native material. Trusses were hewn from local Arkansas pine and gently perched atop a flagstone floor quarried nearby. Taking its inspiration and material vocabulary from the surrounding rocky Ozarks, the blindingly simple clarity of construction asserts an understated harmony between site, structure and god.
Even the approach to Thorncrown is appropriately humble, as little more than a winding stone pathway through the forest reveals this glass temple of the trees. Jones took great measures to preserve as much of the wooded escarpment as possible and the delicate structure is veiled as little more than a modest glass enclosure cloaked amongst the towering oaks of the site.
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