Nestled in a woodland setting, Thorncrown Chapel by E. Fay Jones rises forty-eight feet into the Ozark sky. This magnificent wooden structure contains 425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass. It sits atop over 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone, making it blend perfectly with its setting. 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.”
Since the chapel opened in 1980, over six million people have visited this woodland sanctuary. Designed by renowned architect E. Fay Jones, Thorncrown has won numerous architectural awards such as the American Institute of Architects’ Design of the Year Award for 1981 and AIA’s prestigious 25 Year Award. Recently, members of the American Institute of Architects placed Thorncrown Chapel fourth on its list of the top buildings of the twentieth century.
The inspiration for Thorncrown Chapel was Sainte Chappelle, Paris’ light filled gothic chapel. Fay affectionately labeled Thorncrown’s style as “Ozark Gothic.” The chapel rises 48 feet into the sky with over 6,000 square feet of glass and 425 windows. Its dimensions are 24 feet by 60 feet. The chapel is made with all organic materials to fit its natural setting. The only steel in the structure forms a diamond shaped pattern in its wooden trusses. The building has a native flagstone floor surrounded with a rock wall which gives the feeling that the chapel is part of its Ozark hillside.
In order to preserve Thorncrown’s natural setting, Fay decided that no structural element could be larger than what two men could carry through the woods. The building materials are primarily pressure treated pine 2x4s, 2x6s, and 2x12s. The larger elements of the building such as the trusses were assembled on the floor and raised into place.
Light, shadows, and reflections play a major role in Thorncrown’s ambience. Because of the chapel’s elaborate trusses and the surrounding trees, constantly changing patterns of light and shadows appear during the day. At night reflections of the crosses in the lights appear to surround the entire building. Consequently, Thorncrown never looks quite the same. Its appearance changes during each hour of the day and during the different seasons of the year.
Jones’ awards include the 1981 American Institute of Architects National Honor Award for Thorncrown Chapel and the AIA Gold Medal (1990). Thorncrown was listed fourth on the AIA’s top ten buildings of the 20th century. When alive, Mr. Jones was recognized as one of the top ten living architects of the 20th century.