Crowned Jewel

A little south and a little west of our downtown proper, you’ll find a wide street with stately old homes. The homes sit to the back of their properties, playing second fiddle to lines of majestic oak trees closer to the street. Overhead, the tree branches are densely intertwined, barely allowing the sun to peek through, creating a cozy, comforting canopy as you drive through. It’s a look that could’ve inspired the design of Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Thorncrown Chapel

When I gushed about Fallingwater in last week’s Perfect Harmony, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit some of my favorite American architecture as I share the adventure of my LEGO model build.  Were it not for my architecture degree in college I probably wouldn’t be aware of these beautiful structures.  Instead, all these years later I can recall my favorites from memory.  They’re a diverse bunch but I think they exemplify almost-perfect spaces, thanks to the work of the architect behind the scenes.

Thorncrown Chapel is an appropriate choice to lead off my list.  Just like Fallingwater, the chapel’s intent is to bring the outside in so that worship (or weddings, or any other celebration) feels as if you’re one with nature, yet with the conveniences and comfort of an enclosed space.  Thorncrown was built in 1980 (by coincidence, my freshman year of college).  Its architect, E. Fay Jones, turned a childhood interest in treehouses into a decorated career, including an apprenticeship under Frank Lloyd Wright.  Fay Jones’ designs “focused primarily on the intimate rather than the grandiose“.  Hence, chapels.

As a disciple of Wright (and the only one to win the American Institute of Architect’s [AIA] prestigious Gold Medal), it’s no surprise Fay Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel design is reminiscent of Wright’s Prairie School houses, with its broad overhanging eaves, horizontal lines,  and deliberate integration with the landscape.  Thorncrown contains 425 individual windows.  Those with stained glass bring in so much colored light the chapel’s interior is often described as “jewel-like”.

As with Fallingwater, Thorncrown is constructed of organic materials, including Southern pine and flagstone from the surrounding area.  The chapel seats 100 and is non-denominational, intended more for meditation for those who make the pilgrimage to Eureka Springs (in other words, go see it!)  For all of the beautiful structures you’ll find in America over the last forty years, the AIA has given Thorncrown the distinction of “best American building constructed since 1980”. 

Sainte-Chapelle

Despite my longtime familiarity with Thorncrown, I never thought to wonder how it got its name.  Turns out, Thorncrown’s design was not only inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright but also by Sainte-Chapelle, the Gothic church in Paris, France.  And at some point in its history, Sainte-Chapelle supposedly housed the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ.

If your wanderings ever bring you to the northwest corner of Arkansas, take time to visit this crowned jewel of a chapel.  Whether it strikes you as a treehouse or a miniature cathedral, being in church will never feel so comforting and cozy.

Now then, let’s turn our attention to (LEGO) Fallingwater, shall we?

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Fallingwater – Update #1

As with the LEGO Grand Piano, the first step in the build is to simply open the box and assess the contents.  Here’s what is immediately apparent about the LEGO Fallingwater model:

  1. The finished product will look much more like LEGO than the Grand Piano looks like a miniature piano.  I can’t pinpoint the date LEGO first produced its Fallingwater model but it must’ve been years before the Grand Piano, with pieces more in line with basic LEGO blocks.  I mean, check out the photo below.  Would you believe this inventory of boring little pieces comes together as a house over a waterfall?
  2. The Fallingwater model will be completed much faster than the Grand Piano.  The design is intricate, yes, and we’re still talking about thousands of pieces, but the instruction manual hints at a much easier assembly.  I won’t have those heartstopping moments like I did with the Piano, where I realized I’d built a section backwards.  (Then again, my LEGO-building confidence may be getting the best of me.)
  3. The Piano was interesting to look at even as it was coming together.  Fallingwater… not so much.  Under construction it’ll look like haphazard piles of LEGO bricks.  Not exactly riveting to you the reader.  Instead, as I did with the Piano and classical music, I’ll cover a few of Frank Lloyd Wright’s other designs, so you gain a better appreciation for the diversity of his life’s work.

Next week, “groundbreaking”!

Some content sourced from the official Thorncrown website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".

22 thoughts on “Crowned Jewel”

  1. I enjoyed learning about Thorncrown Chapel. It’s AMAZING. Have you been there? How wonderful to sit in church and see the beautiful of the outdoors. A dreamer’s paradise… cozy, no mosquitos, lost in thought. 🙂

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  2. LEGO’s Architecture series made its regular production debut in July of 2008. Fallingwater came on the scene in July/August 2009 as the sixth set in the line. At that time, it was the largest (881 pieces), by a factor of almost 4, and the most complex Architecture set. LEGO has now produced five sets, of a total of 58 Architecture sets, based upon Frank Lloyd Wright designs: Guggenheim Museum (2009), Fallingwater (2009), Robie House (2011), Imperial Hotel (2013), and an updated Guggenheim Museum (2017). Simply by comparing the two versions of the Guggenheim, produced eight years apart, it is easy to see how model design became much more sophisticated with time and part count. The creation of new parts, which allowed for more varied construction techniques and renderings that more closely approximated the structures upon which the sets were based contributed to that, but so did the fact that the 2009 set only had 208 pieces, whereas the 2017 set had 744 pieces. Even with the increasing aesthetic quality of sets over time, IMHO Robie House from 2011 remains one of the most visually stunning sets in the entire line.

    It is worth noting that LEGO has produced other models of comparatively gargantuan proportions under a variety of different themes. Some of these include Eiffel Tower-2007-3428 pieces, Taj Mahal 2008-5922 pieces, Tower Bridge-2010-4287 pieces, Sydney Opera House-2013-2989 pieces, Big Ben-2016-4163 pieces, Taj Mahal-2017-5923 pieces, Old Trafford-2021-3898 pieces, Colosseum-2020-9036 pieces, Camp Nou-2021-5509 pieces, Real Madrid-2022-5876 pieces, and Eifel Tower-2022-10001 pieces!

    Thanks to Brickset for the source data here.

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    1. Thank you for this background on the LEGO Architecture series; it gives a really interesting perspective. I’d forgotten about the Robie House model, and the Guggenheim and Sydney Opera House tempt me as well. Interesting to read how LEGO reissued the Guggenheim and the Eiffel Tower with more advanced designs. LEGO just sent me their latest brochure, which highlights the 10,001-piece version of the Eiffel Tower. Considering the Grand Piano was 3,000+ pieces (and took weeks to build), I can’t imagine assembling something with more than three times as many pieces!

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    1. No question about being distracted, Betsy. Maybe that’s why the chapel is primarily for mediation. You can gaze in any direction besides the altar and still claim you are “meditating”.

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    1. Another commenter reminded me Lego also created models for the Sydney Opera House and the Guggenheim Museum. Maybe this isn’t my last model build after all…

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  3. You will make the build interesting even if it isn’t all that exciting to build!
    It looks like the 811 piece Fallingwater set has been discontinued. I wonder how LEGO decides what to keep making and what to discontinue!
    I’d like Diagon Alley, but it has been out of stock for some time.

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    1. It’s a good question, Margy. Maybe like published books, Lego assesses demand and decides when enough is enough. They’re really on to something with their Architecture series though. Endless possibilities.

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  4. Thorncrown Chapel sounds like a heady place to worship Dave and a wonderful wedding venue as well. I think outdoor weddings are becoming more popular and it’s not just getting married barefoot on a sandy beach anymore.

    Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a beautiful and scenic venue. I have a friend (Pat) who went there on vacation some 20+ years ago. She loved animals, so she wanted to visit Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge which is a sanctuary for wild animals, notably the big cats, most which were rescued from big circuses, or traveling circuses, plus some rehabbed felines that could not be released into the wild. Visitors could stay on site at the Refuge. She ended up spending her week’s vacation as a volunteer walking tigers and mucking out their living quarters and the gentleman who founded the organization wanted to write his memoirs and asked her to work for him. She jumped at the chance as she was divorced, her kids were grown and she was bored with her corporate banking job; she moved there three months later. Pat built a house at the top of a mountain and recently retired, having spent years as a board member and was still out walking the tigers the last I heard from her.

    Your new Lego adventure will keep us spellbound until the following week; we luckily got a glimpse of the finished building in your recent post.

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    1. Now I have another reason to visit Eureka Springs besides Thorncrown. Thanks for sharing that story, Linda. I admire someone who discovers her passion, especially someone who acts on it like your friend Pat. Surely her life has been made more meaningful because of her decision.

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      1. That clinches it Dave – you should make Eureka Springs a definite destination for your bucket list. Glad you liked Pat Quinn’s story. She loves animals, so she told me she jumped at this opportunity and never looked back. I also admire someone discovering their passion and forsaking the “sure thing” as she did. When Pat told me she was ready to retire, she said “I’ll sit on my front porch on the top of the mountain with my cats and dogs and be perfectly content.”

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    1. Thorncrown would make for a difficult LEGO model! So much glass. I’ll have to settle for some of LEGO’s other choices instead. The 10,000-piece Eiffel Tower tempts me, but let’s see how “little” Fallingwater goes first 🙂

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