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