Thorncrown Chapel: Euine Fay Jones’ Legacy at Eureka Springs, Arkansas USA

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Samuel Nguma

Samuel Nguma is an Editor for Archute. He enjoys taking long walks and reading short stories. He is an ardent lover of architecture which he studied at the University of Nairobi.
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When discussing sacred architecture, many designers concur that its design must represent symbolism. This is evident in ancient civilizations - from Mayan ziggurats to Egyptian pyramids. In these instances, the extravagant creativity of architects is excused as it serves the glorification of the Divine Entity they aim to depict through their architectural marvel. A particular chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, USA is a noteworthy example - an impressive exploration of size and ratio; setting and substance; light and darkness.

Nestled in a surreal woodland setting, Thorncrown Chapel by the architect Euine Fay Jones rises 15 metres into the Ozark sky. It’s sheer magnificence – a marriage of native wood and about 550 square metres of glass that is founded on a ‘plinth’ of 100 tonnes of native coloured flagstone. The chapel's simple design and majestic beauty combine to make it what critics have called "one of the finest religious spaces of modern times."

The client Jim Reed, a retired schoolteacher, had bought the parcel of land with intentions of putting up a retirement cabin. However, with the scenic view along the highway that caused lots of tourist stops daily, he thought twice. He envisioned a non-denominational chapel, a spiritual sanctuary of sorts – one that Euine Jay Jones would later describe as a “place to think your best thoughts.” One may argue that it is this simplicity, this genius of place; that draws 2000 daily visitors – an architecture that everyone can understand and appreciate.

Jones, an apprentice of world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, set out to design a “forest within a forest.” It is this concept that stems strongly from its immediate context that led him to detail a repeated column and truss structure with a massive skylight at its pinnacle. The play of light with the apparent rhythm of the trusses, together with the weightlessness of an interior that is flooded with light; leave the ‘worshipper’ standing in awe.

The subject gets a sense that they are inside and outside at the same time - that they are simultaneously enveloped in space and nature. And it is when the aspects of form and space are blurred that architecture becomes truly memorable, even monumental. Is it any wonder then that over 6 million visitors have graced this space; and that the American Institute of Architects placed Thorncrown Chapel fourth on its list of the top ten buildings in the twentieth century?

Learn about the unique blend of architectural styles embodied by Link Arkitektur’s Algard Church In Norway.

Project Information
Architect: Euine Fay Jones
Location: Eureka Springs, Arkansas, USA
Client: Jim Reed
Built Area: 134 sqm
Status: Completed, 1980
Photographs: Randall Connaughton

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About the author

Samuel Nguma

Samuel Nguma is an Editor for Archute. He enjoys taking long walks and reading short stories. He is an ardent lover of architecture which he studied at the University of Nairobi.
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