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…

Mistake.

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…

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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”.

This Gamble Pays Off

In the movie Back to the Future, there’s a memorable scene shortly after Marty McFly time-travels back to 1950s California. Marty looks up Doc Brown in the phone book and heads over to his house. Doc doesn’t recognize Marty when he opens the door but he drags him inside anyway.  The scene is memorable because Doc’s house (the exterior, at least) is recognizable to any student of American architecture. Welcome to Pasadena’s Gamble House.

Greene and Greene’s Gamble House

Maybe you guessed this Gamble wasn’t won in a wager (although it would’ve been a handsome payoff!)  Rather, it was built for a member of the (Proctor &) Gamble family who liked the look of his next-door neighbor’s place.  That house, and many others on the same street, was designed by sibling architects (Charles) Greene and (Henry) Greene.  The Gamble House is perhaps their most famous design.

Front doors and foyer

The Greene brothers, who studied architecture at MIT, made a significant stop on their journey to the West Coast.  They spent time at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  While there, they picked up design influences from the temple look of the Japanese pavilion (wood construction, tiled roofs, open verandas).

Dining area

The Greene and Greene “ultimate bungalow” look, with its liberal use of dark wood slats and panels, became known as the Craftsman style of architecture.  This label was all the more fitting because the Greene brothers also studied furniture design, and incorporated many custom pieces into their houses.  Even more impressive, the finished look relies on elegant leather straps and wooden pegs as fasteners; not a nail or screw in sight.

Main staircase

The Gamble House is 6,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor living, in concert with California’s mild temperatures.  You can tour the house courtesy of the USC School of Architecture students who get to live there every school year (luckies!)  A separate tour walks you through the neighborhood to see other Greene and Greene designs.  But the Gamble remains their masterpiece.  And if you ever see this inviting residence, you may wish you owned a time-traveling DeLorean to take you back to its heyday in the early 1900s.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Now for the latest on LEGO Fallingwater…

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LEGO Fallingwater – Update #3  (Read how this project got started in Perfect Harmony)

I find it funny how this Fallingwater model is “rising” off of its foundation at the same time the water below is “falling”.  It’s like I’m going in opposite directions at the same time.  20 pages (or 22%, or 83 minutes) into the build, this is what we have.

As you can see, the stream is now “built” from the front of the house all the way to the back, with the modest waterfall front and center.  We also have our first piece of “landscape”, that dark green strip you see on the left.  Otherwise, we’re still at the foundation level.  I expect the house to rise dramatically in the next few chapters of the build.

LEGO “wrench”

Here’s something unnerving about this model.  You don’t really understand what you’re building as you go.  You’re putting together very small pieces which look like, well, LEGO blocks, until you stand back and take the whole model in.  For this reason, you have to build very, very carefully.  I still got the location of a few pieces wrong and had to utilize my handy-dandy wrench to yank them out.  It’s like pulling teeth.

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

Petttit Memorial Chapel

Over five hundred structures were built from the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, but only one of those five hundred is in a cemetery.  That would be the Pettit Chapel in Belvidere, Illinois.  Dr. Pettit was a beloved physician of his time, and his sudden passing prompted his wife to hire Wright to design a graveside chapel as a memorial to the man.

Pettit Chapel

The design of the “petite” Pettit is very much in line with Wright’s signature Prairie Style.  The low roof lines, broad eaves, and high horizontal bands of glass are typical.  Wright used the shape of a cruciform – common in medieval cathedrals – to house the smallest of sanctuaries, as well as two open-air porches and a central fireplace.  He then added storage, restrooms, and a furnace so the chapel could be used for public functions.

The Pettit Chapel has survived since its construction in 1906, thanks to restorations in 1977 and 2003.  The chapel is open to the public, and, like many structures designed by Wright, included on America’s National Register of Historic Places.

Some content sourced from The Museum of Lost Things website article, “The Real ‘Back to the Future’ House”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Get Your Feet Wet!

I love urban plazas where water jets through an array of holes at ground level, creating fountains and arcs at random. Watching kids run and play in the midst of these unpredictable showers brings a smile. It’s also a creative way to cool off. Down in Texas, where it always seems to be hot, they’ve created an entire garden of water, where you can get your feet wet in all sorts of ways. Welcome to Fort Worth’s Water Gardens.

Fort Worth Water Gardens

Maybe you don’t think of an outdoor venue as “architecture” but the fact is you don’t need walls and a ceiling to define space.  The Water Gardens are a perfect example.  This city block oasis pops up (er, down), unexpectedly as you pass through the urban grid of Fort Worth.  Most of the park is hidden below street level but you can’t miss the rising mist and symphony of moving water.  It’s a celebration of sorts, urging you to join in on the fun.  The few photos I share here don’t begin to do it justice.

The Water Gardens challenge my logical brain because there’s no rhyme or reason to their haphazard design.  Maybe that’s the point.  Wander, gaze, and “soak in” their five acres.  The Gardens are a multi-faceted experience of water.  Phillip Johnson (one of America’s foremost architects), and John Burgee (a graduate of my own university) designed the Water Gardens to include “… pathways, wayside stops, events, and hideaways to draw out the experience, to convey more of the sense of a Central Park… than its limited acreage would’ve suggested possible.”  That may be saying a lot about a little, but consider the Gardens’ offerings:

Quiet Pool

The “Quiet Pool” sits at the base of twenty-foot walls.  Water descends almost silently down the stone from a trough above.  Deep in the Gardens by the pool itself, you’re so far below ground level it’s as if the city has somehow been relocated far, far away.

Aerated Pool

The “Aerated Pool” is a nod to the water jets I mentioned above.  Forty nozzles create an “orchard” of water in this smaller pool, the tops of the “trees” reaching back to the ground level of the city above.

The “Mountain” is a series of stepped concrete terraces, descending to a corner of the park removed from the water elements.  Sitting on the Mountain is almost like being blindfolded.  You can hear the rush of the Water Gardens nearby; you just can’t see them.

Active Pool. Watch your step!

The “Active Pool” is the largest and most distinctive feature of the Water Gardens, literally a canyon through which the water streams and falls, terminating in a pool thirty-eight feet below the ground.  A series of open steps dares you to descend through the water from top to bottom (check out this video for a sense of the experience).  The Active Pool gained notoriety in the final scene of the movie Logan’s Run, as the inhabitants of the dystopian city climb into the outdoors for the very first time.

The major elements of the Water Gardens are tied together by a central plaza, where you can experience everything from one location.  But to do so would betray the Gardens’ intent.  They’re meant to be a moving experience, much as the water itself rushes, mists, and pools throughout.

Architecture is structured, while landscape is unstructured.  Blend the two and the result can be unlike anything you’ve seen before.  The Water Gardens beckon you to escape, to wander, to contemplate, and most importantly, to get your feet wet.  Will you accept their invitation?

Now for the latest on LEGO Fallingwater…

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LEGO Fallingwater – Update #2  (Read how this project started in Perfect Harmony)

The instruction manual for LEGO Fallingwater includes about ninety pages for the assembly, so I figured I’d divide the build into nine equal parts.  In the spirit of today’s topic, I proceeded to “dive in”.

Heaven help me.

You see, the 3,000+ pieces of the LEGO Grand Piano were separated into twenty-one numbered bags.  Build one bag at a time – easy-peasy.  On the other hand, the 800+ pieces of the LEGO Fallingwater model are separated arbitrarily into nine bags, with no indication of what piece is where.  It’s like opening a jigsaw puzzle and realizing every piece looks almost exactly the same.

This scene is even scarier when you click to zoom in…

I took a photo of my desk so you could see how much chaos I created on my first day.  Did I open all nine bags in search of pieces?  Yes, I did.  Did I consider just dumping all of the pieces into a big pile so I could search in one place? Yes (but I was afraid there was good reason they’re separated into nine bags).  Did I build part of the model wrong and have to backtrack?  Absolutely (and thank goodness for that little orange wrench you see next to the scissors.  It came with the LEGO Grand Piano and unsnaps pieces that are snapped together incorrectly).

Ten pages (or 11%, or 49 minutes) into the build, this is what we have.  We’re looking at Fallingwater from the same angle as the photo above, only all we’ve got is the lowest perimeter foundation wall and a spill of waterfall and creek emerging from the front corner.  Not very exciting.  Tune in next Thursday as the construction continues.  Now for another nod to Frank Lloyd Wright…

Romeo and Juliet Windmill

For all of his famous residential and commercial projects, Frank Lloyd Wright had plenty of lesser-known designs, such as the Romeo and Juliet Windmill in Wyoming, WI.  The tower was commissioned by Wright’s aunts, to pump water to a nearby school where they taught.  You might describe its shingle-clad look as quaint but in fact, the design is intentional.  The taller piece in the rear (“Romeo”) serves as structural support to counter the prevailing winds of the area.  Romeo also contains the mechanics of the windmill and water pump.  The cupola-topped octagonal piece in front (“Juliet”) is largely ornamental and softens the look of the tower when observed from further down the hillside.  Neither part of the tower can really stand on its own, hence the name “Romeo and Juliet”.

Some content sourced from the website for Fort Worth Parks and Trails, and from Johnson/Burgee: Architecture, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Perfect Harmony

In the toe of my wife’s Christmas stocking this year, I nestled a small gift to help her sleep. It’s a travel version of one of those sound machines, where you can dial up anything from rain to ocean waves to lull you off to Never Never Land. You can even mimic a waterfall, which would be my personal choice. After all, it’s the same sound the Kaufmann family enjoyed for years at their stunning retreat in the Pennsylvania forest, southeast of Pittsburgh. Seeing this famous house is an entry on my bucket list. Yes, one of these days I will make the trek to Fallingwater.

If you’re old enough to remember, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, you know the song’s about more than just apple trees and honey bees.  It’s about “perfect harmony”, which is how anyone would describe Fallingwater.  This beautiful structure is exactly as named: a house on top of a waterfall.  It is considered one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest achievements.  The design is a melding of interior and exterior spaces, a principle borrowed from the Japanese.  Fallingwater is a building, yes, but it’s more often described as “… harmony between man and nature”.

If you know anything about Wright, you know he was an eccentric architect.  When the Kaufmann’s called to stop by his studio for a progress report, Wright hadn’t even begun the drawings.  Yet by the time they arrived two hours later, Wright had completed the entire design.  This production under pressure reminds me of author Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a novel written in just nine days and considered one of Bradbury’s greatest works.

The genius of Fallingwater’s design is in the details, or perhaps the lack of them.  The house is constructed of reinforced concrete, stone, and glass.  Its interior spaces are small and dark, encouraging more time spent outdoors.  The sound of water can be heard everywhere, whether from the stream and waterfall below or from the natural spring allowed to drip along one of the hallways.  Fallingwater’s distinctive cantilevered terraces are meant to resemble nearby rock formations, extending in every direction to the forested surroundings.  Its dramatic perch on top of the waterfall is hidden from the approach to the house, lending to a sense of modesty.

Fallingwater brings the outdoors in wherever possible, and its best example may be a ledge-shaped rock in the living room, left undisturbed in its original location.  The surrounding stone floor is waxed while the ledge is left plain and dull, creating the look of a rock protruding from a stream.  A stair descends from the same room, several steps down to a platform whose function is to simply admire the stream.  From photos, you’d believe Fallingwater was constructed entirely offsite and dropped gently within the forest by pushing aside a few tree branches.

Today, Fallingwater is a National Historic Landmark.  You can tour the house and grounds with the purchase of a ticket at the visitor’s information website.  If I were to visit, it’d be a ten-hour drive from where I live.  That’s not going to happen anytime soon.  Instead, I will build Fallingwater; literally.  It is a model in the LEGO Architecture series and I am lucky to own a copy.  As I tell my family, there are only two LEGO models I’ve ever wanted to build: the Grand Piano (completed last year and blogged about here), and Fallingwater.  It’s a new year and it’s time to get started.

I’ll bring you along for the ride as my miniature Fallingwater takes shape in my home office.  You can look for updates at the end of the next several posts.  Eight hundred pieces from now, when all is said and done, I may borrow that little sleep aid I gave my wife for Christmas.  After all, no house built on top of a waterfall would be complete without the sounds to go with it.  Remember, we’re talking (er, singing) about perfect harmony here.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.