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

Updated on

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.
Get Smarter On Architecture and Design

Get the 3-minute weekly newsletter keeping 5K+ designers in the loop.

Enter your Email to Sign up


When it comes to religious architecture, most designers agree that the form has an obligation to be symbolic. We see this in civilisations gone by – from the Mayan ziggurats to Egyptian pyramids. In such cases the aesthetic extravagance of architects is forgiven in service to the Supreme Being they are attempting to freeze in a feat of architecture. One such chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, USA stands out – an extraordinary essay of scale and proportion; context and material; light and shadow.

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

Photo of author

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.
Related Articles

Philosophy of Architecture for the Future Tropical Villa: Nature-Infused Modernity

Located in the serene village of Umalas, within the vibrant region of Canggu in Badung, Bali, the JUPITER UMALAS housing ...

Amorph Living Sculpture: An Architectural Exploration of Wood and Concrete in Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, a beautiful town in Austria, has always managed to cultivate and preserve a rich urban fabric. This has made ...

The Turning Torso, Calatrava’s Twisting Skyscraper in Sweden

The Turning Torso, Twisting Torso or Rotating Torso, whatever name fits it best, Santiago Calatrava's Torso tower in Malmö is the tallest skyscraper ...