I’ve wanted to visit Thorncrown Chapel since first catching a segment on the nightly news back in the late eighties about architect Fay Jones. I finally had a chance to see it this summer while on a driving trip out to Texas. Thorncrown is a chapel located in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is north of Fayetteville, Arkansas. It is located in a clearing in the hilly Ozark Mountains, which isn’t quite as remote as it sounds. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with the wife of Jim Reed (now deceased) who commissioned it originally in the late nineteen seventies. It was an amazing experience.
As with all my favorite buildings, the beauty is in the confluence of many factors: the site, the spatial quality, and the construction. The entire building is assembled from dimensional lumber, mostly 2×4’s and 2×10’s. It’s got the repetition and proportion of a gothic cathedral but with the lightness and transparency of the modern building it is. The majority of the lighting, aside from a few accents, is natural, due to the vast expanses of glass in the walls and roof. It’s another great example of true American architecture, born from the lineage of Frank Lloyd Wright.
A characteristic of Fay Jones work (as well as Wright and others schooled in his thought) is that the architecture is one of expressive details, from the larger construction assemblies to the light fixtures, door handles, window frames, etc. Integrating these details is something that is almost lost in architectural design today, but it is exactly these details that makes works like this outstanding.