In Which I Am Back In The South

Right now I’m in Little Rock, Arkansas after driving through the rest of Kansas, into and through Oklahoma, and into Arkansas so I could see a Thorncrown Chapel. I decided to skip St. Louis. Tonight I’m in a hotel because last night was a pretty awful night’s sleep folded up in my car at a rest stop.

Thorncrown is spectacularly great. As I was sitting inside the building I had time to think about how it relates to the Cathedral of Our Lady of The Angels, which I was able to see in Los Angeles. Both are stunning works of architecture and spirituality, and I found it impossible to say which one was better. They are both brilliant in their setting, and trying to switch the buildings with each other would be a horrible mistake. Thorncrown would not work in Los Angeles, and Moneo’s cathedral wouldn’t work wrapped up in the Ozarks. Each one fits comfortably and naturally in its place, and each one is able to bring an overriding sense of spirituality because of this. While the Cathedral is large, dark, solid, and imposing, Thorncrown is tiny, light-filled, transparent, and ethereal. Each is what is needed for its function and in its setting, and both are inspiring works.

I’d never driven through the Ozarks until today; they reminded me a lot of the Piedmont are I’ve gotten used to living in South Carolina. Lush, green, dark, and, as I drove through today, damp. I hadn’t really seen any rain since driving through Dallas two months ago, but as I made my way up the winding roads to Thorncrown today the skies opened in one of those beautiful southern summer storms. The kind where it’s still sunny out and everything gets a really good drenching for an hour or so. Next stop is Nashville for a couple days, and then home for two days before going to Vermont for a couple weeks, but as of today, with the scenery and summer rain, I’m back in the South and that’s a great feeling.


2 thoughts on “In Which I Am Back In The South

  1. rex says:

    I might not have enough faith to bear upon a religion, but certainly, I have enough faith to appreciate the dwelling of such spirit. As I had mentioned in your photo album before, the Church of the Lady is a wonderful interpretation of the classical gothic ritual progression which was particularly poetic on a Sunday service with its organ echo within its heavy concrete confine.
    The Thorncrown was a little jewel piece by itself, enhancing its present by expressing its endless repetition of structure.
    If you had visited any Rural Studio chapel, with their recycled material palette, they were just as stunning in the plain of red dust and despair.
    The point was, and you were exactly right, they belonged to their immediate context, therefore, they were seemingly beautiful not because of their sensible adaptation of the religion but, in fact, the seamless integration with the society.
    We said it once and we will say it again, what is the point of having Jesus hanging out at the Dollar General?!

  2. Josh says:

    You’re exactly right, Rex. The fit and appropriateness in the setting is a large part of the beauty. For the architect in me, I find that kind of work poetic and inspiring. For the person of faith in me, I find that kind of work brings me closer to the goals of my faith better than any typical modern warehouse church building. Because of the mix of the two in me, I do not see creativity, inspiration, or spirituality in those metal built-in-a-week church buildings.

    I remember a point Marlon Blackwell made about bad architecture in his lecture two years ago: He showed a picture of a church near his house and then a strip club down the street from it. The point was not that a church and a strip club were near each other, the point was that they were both made by the same metal warehouse building company and looked identical except for the banners out front!

    Even having a strip club in a warehouse seems cheap to me, so you can imagine how cheap I think having a church in one is.

    (And you’re right about the Rural Studio chapels too, although I’m of the opinion that almost everything they do has the perfect spiritual quality of a church, whether it’s a chapel or a house.)

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