While walking through the woods near Eureka Springs, Arkansas, one might be forgiven to mistake Thorncrown Chapel for a grove of trees in the middle of the forest. The transparent glazed facade, combined with the timber trusses, creates the appearance of a grand forest rather than a carefully constructed chapel. It is only when one is inside the chapel that one starts appreciating the small details that set it apart as a paragon of architectural achievement: the steel joints on the trusses, the lanterns, the reflection of the glass, and the steel roof.
With all the contemporary emphasis on modern sustainable architecture, sometimes we seem to forget that environmentally friendly architecture has existed for a long time. Built in 1980, Thorncrown Chapel was created to highlight its location, which was – and still is – an attractive natural setting for tourists in the area. The owner of the site, Jim Reed, hired well-known architect and Frank Lloyd Wright alumni E. Fay Jones to design and build the project. The chapel is constructed from native timber to match the setting around it, and it was awarded the “Twenty-Five year award” by the American Institute of Architects.
The Thorncrown Chapel shows us how proper planning can reduce a building’s impact on its site. The vertical and diagonal cross-tension trusses are made from lengths of pine cut to size so that they could be carried through the woods. The selection of materials was also an important consideration- all the timber came from local sources (this was before Forest Council Stewardship), the floor is made out of flagstone, and the building is lined with a rock wall that links it with its surrounding environment.
But the Thorncrown Chapel’s most important feature is the way it completely blends into its surroundings. The glazed facade turns what could be a rather heavy object in the middle of the forest into a light, almost invisible structure. The transparent facade allows visitors to experience the forest while being inside the building. The building changes with the weather and the surrounding forest, ensuring that every visit is unique.