Wings and Prayers

One of the must-sees on a visit to Colorado Springs is the campus of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). Besides a training ground for our future servicemen and women, the Academy hosts a high school, an airfield, two golf courses, and a cohesive campus of modernist buildings spread across 18,500 acres of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. But one structure stands prouder and taller than anything else on the property. Welcome to the USAFA Cadet Chapel.

USAFA Cadet Chapel

If you’re following my blog posts on architecture (as I complete my LEGO Fallingwater model), you’ll recall Thorncrown Chapel from a few weeks back.  The USAFA Cadet Chapel is a much bolder animal, dominating the academy campus skyline and easy to see from miles around.  Instead of Thorncrown’s wood and glass, the Cadet Chapel boasts an impressive open structural steel frame, married with tall triangular stained glass windows.  The main sanctuary is big enough to seat 1,200 (or about 25% of the USAFA student body); more like a church than a chapel.  Frankly, the only thing the Cadet Chapel has in common with Thorncrown is its design inspiration: France’s Sainte-Chapelle.

Fighter jets all in a row?

The distinctive feature of the USAFA Cadet Chapel is its seventeen spires, marching from one end of the building to the other.  The bold design, by architect Walter Netsche, took a little getting used to when the doors opened in 1962.  Visitors described the structure as a giant accordion made of triangles.  I describe it, more fittingly, as a series of fighter jets standing on their tails.

If you haven’t visited the Cadet Chapel you probably don’t know its biggest secret.  It’s a chapel for all faiths.  The main sanctuary is just the top floor of a multi-level structure.  Hidden below, you’ll find individual chapels for Catholics (500 seats), Jews (100 seats), Muslims, and Buddhists.  You’ll even find two “all-faiths rooms” and an outdoor area for “Earth-Centered Spirituality” (reserved for you Pagans and Druids).  It’s safe to say your acceptance into the Academy has nothing to do with who or how you choose to worship.

USAFA Catholic chapel (lower level)

The Cadet Chapel is a structural marvel, assembled from precisely one hundred prefabricated tetrahedral panels.  Over the years its popularity has grown to where it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2004.  That’s the good news.  Now for the bad.  The original design called for a series of gutters to transfer water away from the building, instead of streaming directly down its panels.  But the gutters were scrapped due to budget constraints…


Sixty years of caulking and recaulking leaks finally forced the Academy to close the chapel for remodeling in 2019.  Now for the really bad news… they’re still not finished with the repairs.  In fact, you won’t be able to walk through the doors for another four years.  What’s taking so long?  Adding all those gutters, the ones that were supposed to be there in the first place.

The Cadet Chapel is “boxed” until 2027

One more bit of bad news (the fighter jets are really nosediving).  Getting construction workers to the tops of the chapel spires meant building an entire hangar-like structure around the chapel.  No joke – they put the whole building in a box.  In other words, not only can you not walk through the doors, you can’t even see the Cadet Chapel today.  Trust me, absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Mark your calendar for 2027, because you really need to see the USAFA Cadet Chapel.  It’s the only place I know where a (jet) wing and a prayer can be found in the same place.

Now for the latest on LEGO Fallingwater…


LEGO Fallingwater – Update #4  (Read how this project got started in Perfect Harmony)

I’m starting to wish I’d built Fallingwater before the LEGO Grand Piano, so you’d see me taking on a greater challenge versus the other way around.  30 pages (or 33%, or 118 minutes) into the build, this is what we have:

Pretty much the same as last week.  We added some landscape to the left side (the green/brown pieces), more landscape along the back, and we raised the foundation a little higher up off the water.  We have yet to see any of the distinctive house itself.  Not so adventurous.

What IS adventurous is sifting through 800 tiny pieces.  There’s no logic in how they were bagged (thanks, LEGO!) so I end up just spilling everything out onto the desk, searching for a lot of minutes followed by building for a few minutes.  Tedious?  Heck no, this is a blast.  If “tedious” entered my brain I’d have no business building LEGO models.

LEGO Gamble House by Grant W. Scholbrock

Props to my college buddy Bruce for sharing this photo, an example of a custom LEGO build… and one you can’t buy.  It belongs in a museum if you ask me.  There are pedestrian model builders (yours truly) and then there are professionals.  Way to go, Grant!

Tune in next Thursday as construction continues!  Now for another nod to Frank Lloyd Wright…

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

I’m not a big fan of museums.  Maybe that’s because, as Frank Lloyd Wright said, a lot of them look like “Protestant barns”.  No wonder New York City’s Guggenheim Museum is radically different.  When Wright set out to design it in 1943 he vowed to “make the building and the paintings a symphony such as never existed before in the World of Art”.

I can’t describe “The Goog” any better than the website of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  Their words: “… a white ribbon curled into a cylindrical stack that grows continuously wider as it spirals upwards towards a glass ceiling.” In other words, you the visitor climb in circles ever-ascending, enjoying the art as you go.  The Guggenheim was the first museum design where the “physical home” played an important role in the experience of the art itself.  If you’ve ever been to a museum that deserves a similar description, you have the Guggenheim to thank.

LEGO Guggenheim

In closing I ask, is the Goog significant enough to earn a spot in the LEGO Architecture series of models?  Why yes, it is!

Some content sourced from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation 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".

33 thoughts on “Wings and Prayers”

    1. The primary sanctuary (Protestant) is dramatic to be sure, but it’s fascinating to drop down one level and see the other worship spaces as well.


    1. The irony is, after years and years of repair the Cadet Chapel will look exactly the same, with the addition of somewhat hidden gutters to move water away from the building. A walk through the dramatic upper sanctuary is well worth the visit.


  1. Dave that’s an amazing Chapel. I agree, they look like a bunch of fighter jets lined up. Incredible and inside is interesting design too, love all the stained glass windows. YOUR lego project is coming along. Bless you, I don’t think I could deal with so many little pieces and having to guess where they go. Although, I do puzzles, when they are all blue/pink like the sky, it’s the same guessing game. The Goog inside with lego people walking around would be a hoot.

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    1. The main sanctuary is a beautiful space, thanks to those soaring stained-glass windows and the higher ceiling above the center aisle. The outdoor surroundings of the Chapel are as stark as the pictures make them appear, but typical of the entire campus. I wouldn’t describe the Academy architecture as “warm”, but at least the buildings are nestled up against the picturesque Rocky Mountains.

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    1. Netsche was an employee of Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) when he designed the Chapel. SOM is still one of the largest architecture firms in the world.

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  2. “A stitch in time saves nine,” Ben Franklin would have told the builders of the Cadet Chapel. They were worried about the cost–how much is the repair costing, including that big box to make the job possible? / It occurred to me the Lego company should be paying you. You’re good advertising for their advanced sets!

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    1. The Chapel’s renovation is a perfect example for Franklin’s quote, Nancy. I had to Google the cost (and I’m surprised I wasn’t curious about it before you asked, especially living in the shadow of the Chapel for decades). $158 million. OUCH. I cringe to think how much (little) was cut from the budget back when the Chapel was originally constructed.


    1. I’d love your take on the Guggenheim, Lyssy, especially since you’ve toured several museums in Europe. As for the Cadet Chapel, I certainly thought about your recent visit to Sainte-Chapelle when I realized this and Thorncrown were inspired by its design.


  3. Interesting that LEGO didn’t put the pieces into a series of bags like they do with other builds.
    My extended family are all LEGO people – they recently posed the question “Are you pre-sorters or hunters?” (Or something to that effect.) I’m a pre-sorter (by color and then shape of brick.) Others were pre-sorters by color only, and some were hunters! To each their own, as they say.

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    1. Yep, count me confused, Margy, especially after the organized chaos of the Grand Piano. At least with the Piano each bag represented a subset of the build. The LEGO Fallingwater bags don’t serve any purpose other than to group SOMEWHAT-like pieces together. For as much hunting as I’ve done I might as well dump everything together. (On that note, “pre-sorting”, huh? Interesting. The thought never even occurred to me 🙂


  4. They do look like fighter jets. I’ve heard of the Guggenheim, but no idea it was such an interesting looking building. I’ve only ever been to the Museum of Modern Art, a very quick visit, but we only had time for one museum and that one had the shortest lines!

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    1. It’s a coincidence you mention MOMA, Joni. That museum prompted Wright’s quote about the look of a “Protestant barn”. MOMA and the Guggenheim are only a couple of miles apart but they couldn’t look more different.

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      1. I don’t remember much about it, other than realizing that we had chosen the wrong museum and should have gone to the MET. I was expecting to see Renoirs and Monets, and it was mostly abstract art or installations, neither of which interest me.


  5. I didn’t know any of this about the Chapel and it is fascinating. I’ve always wanted to visit CO and think I’ll plan on doing that after the Chapel is unboxed. That’ll give me plenty of time to arrange the visit!

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    1. The Cadet Chapel always sits near the top of lists of things to see/do on a visit to Colorado Springs. The top spot is typically reserved for Garden of the Gods (another must see!)

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  6. I lived near NYC when I was an art student, and the Goog was one of my favorite museums to visit. Always avant-garde and fun to stroll, taking the elevator to start at the top and walk down.

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    1. I never thought to wonder what kind of art is displayed at the Guggenheim but your description sets it apart from what I’d find at MOMA and others in NYC. Starting at the top and working your way down brought to mind Glenwood Canyon. The one time we toured it we rented bikes and they took us to the top (east end) in a van so the bulk of the ride would be downhill. Awesome memory.

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  7. Dave, I agree with you that the design does look like a row of fighter jets and I find it interesting that they put a box around the building in order to work on it. That’s a lot of concrete repair to be done to take that long and gives contractors a bad rap, doesn’t it? That is an impressive Lego version of the Gamble House and even more impressive that Grant designed it himself. Lego will be contacting him any day to create the design for their use.

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    1. There are many builders out there like Grant, who take things into their own hands if LEGO doesn’t already have a kit. That’s way beyond the time/effort I’m willing to commit 🙂

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  8. Oops – I forgot to answer the question you posed at the end of the post. Yes, I think the unique design of the Guggenheim Museum did enable it to earn the right to have its own Lego version. I can’t remember if I went to that museum. I spent a week in New York in April of 1976 as part of a National Model United Nations Conference – our team of six represented Egypt on behalf of our college. We had conferences every morning, but afternoons/evenings we were free to do as we liked so we saw a lot of sights.

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    1. I’m guessing you would’ve remembered the Guggenheim if you’d made the visit, even after all these years. I’ve seen several of Wright’s buildings in person, but never the Goog. Bucket list.

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      1. I think so too Dave based on the unusual shape. There were so many things to see that week and I know we did not get to the MOMA. It was a very hot week for April and we climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty, to the crown. It was brutally hot inside the statue that afternoon and we had to climb up countless steps to get to the crown for a great view.

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      2. I saw the view from the Statue of Liberty’s crown as well, in the 1970s. When I took my daughter in the 2000s we couldn’t get much above the base. Pretty sure that’s a permanent change, where you can only look through a glass ceiling to the rest of the statue above.

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      3. It was a great view, but a heck of a climb, especially on a hot day. I wonder if this had anything to do with 9/11 or even wear and tear on the inside of the statue?


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