Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, November 18, 2016

U.S. Air Force Academy Chapel

Designed and built in the early 1960s, the U.S. Air Force Academy
Chapel, set before a backdrop of he Rocky Mountain foothills,
compares favorably with some of the greatest worship architecture
man has ever conceived.
Few works of man are more impressive and spiritually inspiring than those designed to be places of worship. Over my lifetime I've seen several--Notre Dame de Paris, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the Duomo in Florence, Italy, San Marcos in Venice, and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, to name just a few. All are impressive in their own way and in very different ways. However, none of those are more awe-inspiring than one just outside Colorado Springs, Colorado--the United States Air Force Academy Chapel (above)
The soaring nave of the Protestant Chapel.
My first and only visit to the air force academy chapel came while I was still in the air force, in December, 1968. The chapel was still relatively new (completed in 1962). My sister's husband was also in the air force, stationed at Lowry Air Force Base near Denver. My parents flew my brother and I to Denver to celebrate the holidays (I remember most being sick as a dog at the time). We were there for about a week. Colorado Springs is but a little over an hour's drive south of Denver; and along with the Air Force Academy, home to Pike's Peak and Garden on the Gods. The city easily merits a day or two of anyone's vacation time.
Three chapels in one, suggesting the massive scale of the building.
The Air Force Academy Chapel is actually not just one chapel but three (more than that if you count the Buddhist Chapel and the All-Faith Rooms). The Protestant Chapel is located on the upper level, the Catholic and Jewish Chapels are one level down (approximately ground level). The cutaway view (above) helps orient the mind's eye. The floor plans (below) serve to fill in the details.
The Protestant Chapel seats 1,200, the Catholic Chapel, 500,
the circular Jewish Chapel, 100.
The Cadet Chapel (as it is commonly known) was designed by Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill of Chicago. Construction was accomplished by Robert E. McKee, Inc., of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Originally the design was quite controversial. Groundbreaking design always is. Since its completion, however, the chapel has become a classic. highly regarded example of modernist architecture. The Cadet Chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects' National Twenty-five Year Award in 1996. The most striking aspect of the Chapel is its row of seventeen spires making up a tubular steel frame of 100 identical tetrahedrons, each 75 feet (23 m) long, weighing five tons, enclosing aluminum panels spaced one foot apart, thus creating gaps that are filled with 1-inch-thick colored glass. The Cadet Chapel itself is 150 feet (46 m) high, 280 feet (85 m) long, and 84 feet (26 m) wide.
Few churches and cathedrals are equally impressive both
on the inside and outside. The Air Force Academy Cadet
Chapels are the exception.
Above the narthex (entrance), in the rear of the Protestant Chapel, is a choir balcony and organ (below), designed by the Holtkamp Organ Company. The organ has 83 ranks and 67 stops controlling 4,334 pipes. Harold E. Wagoner designed the liturgical furnishings for both the Protestant and Catholic chapels. The focal point of the Catholic Chapel is the reredos, an abstract glass mosaic mural designed by Lumen Martin Winter composed of varying shades of blue, turquoise, rose and gray tessera to form a portrayal of the firmament. Superimposed on the mural is a depiction of the Annunciation featuring two, ten-foot (3.0 m) tall marble figures, the Virgin Mary on the left, and the Archangel Gabriel on the right. Above and between these two figures is a marble dove.
The pipe organ an choir loft hover over the narthex or
main entrance to the Protestant Chapel.

The chapel under construction, 1961.
All this didn't come cheap. The shell of the chapel and sur-rounding grounds cost $3.5- million in 1962 dollars ($27.5- million in today's cash). Vari-ous furnishings, pipe organs, liturgical fittings and adorn-ments of the chapel were presented as gifts from vari-ous individuals and organ-izations. In 1959, a designated Easter offering was also taken at Air Force bases around the world to help complete the interior. The Air Force Acad-emy is open to visitors through the Academy's North Gate between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (expect security checks). As far as I can tell, admission is free.

A winter sunset at the academy.


No comments:

Post a Comment