Architectural institute bestows 25-year award on Thorncrown

Thursday, December 29, 2005

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Thorncrown Chapel has been selected by the American Institute of Architects to receive the 2006 AIA 25-year award for architectural design that has stood the test of time.

According to a Dec. 21 story on the FloorDaily Web site,, Dell Reed, the chapel's owner, will accept the honor on behalf of the chapel's late architect and her late husband Jim Reed, at the Accent on Architecture Gala in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11.

The small soaring glass and cross-braced pine chapel was designed by the late E. Fay Jones, FAIA, the 1990 AIA Gold Medalist, and is nestled in an eight-acre woodland setting, on a sloping hillside just west of Eureka Springs off of U.S. Hwy. 62.

The chapel stands 48 feet tall with 24-foot-wide by 60-foot-long dimensions, for a total of 1,440 square feet. It has 425 windows, containing 6,000 square feet of glass, which filter woodland light across the upward diamond-shaped pine trusses to form ever-changing patterns of light and shadow throughout the day and night.

AIA Jury Chair Robert Hill, FAIA, stated, "Visiting there gives you a sacred connection between the chapel and its environment, a very centering experience. This is a magnificent object that has received wide acclaim and will continue to be loved and cherished by all who visit.

"Architects strive to be timeless," he continued, "and with this building you take the procession to a timeless piece of architecture. Visiting it is a spiritual, nearly holy, experience. The name doesn't diminish the symbolism of the crown of thorns. It's iconic in a very special way, connected to something truly spiritual, communal and nondenominational -- a truly inspiring work of art and architecture."

"Let the outside in" was a principle of Jones' chief mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the most important element in Jones' design at Thorncrown.

Jones said that he "saw the potential for light play on the structure," so he enlarged the roof-ridge skylight to increase "the sense of drama."

The cross-tension trusses support a folded roof and are made from local pine, but are no larger than what could be carried through the woods.

All the wood was hand-rubbed with a grayish stain to blend with the surrounding trees and stone. Hollow steel joints link the cross braces for diamond-shaped lighting

The walls are simply clear glass, and the floor is made of flagstone and surrounded with a rock wall to give the feeling that the chapel is part of its Ozark mountainside environment.

Openings at each end focus attention on the altar and surrounding woods. Visitors enter through an angular Gothic doorway. The only steel is in the diamond-shaped patterns in the trusses.

Thorncrown received a national AIA Honor Award in 1981, and is fourth on the AIA's Top 10 list of 20th-century structures. Architecture scholar and critic Robert Ivy, FAIA, described Thorncrown as "arguably among the 20th century's great works of art."

Five million people have visited Thorncrown Chapel since it opened in 1980. The nondenominational Christian chapel serves as the site for an average of 300 weddings each year.

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