Thursday, May 23, 2013
Thorncrown Chapel, which won the American Institute of Architecture’s Design of the Year Award for 1981 and the American Institute of Architecture’s Design of the Decade Award for the 1980s, has many fans throughout the country. And now those people who have visited and been inspired by this magnificent glass chapel in the woods have responded by putting in nearly 4,000 comments to the Arkansas Public Service Comm. (APSC) opposing a SWEPCO high voltage power line nearby.
“The issue has gone viral,” said Thorncrown Chapel Pastor Doug Reed. “What happened is that Jeff Danos, who built the website www.savetheozarks.org, wrote a letter to a large architectural website about the issue and included a letter from me. The chief editor there wrote an article about it, including pictures. The response from that alone is enormous. Hundreds and hundreds of people were writing in. It snowballed so other architectural sites and blogs began to run articles as well. It kind of went viral. It is very moving to us to have that much support.”
Thorncrown Chapel, Inc., the American Institute of Architects and its Arkansas Chapter have filed a petition to intervene in proceedings before the APSC where SWEPCO is seeking permission to build the powerline. The petition to intervene states, “Thorncrown Chapel is a setting and structure of unparalleled historical and architectural significance. Since the Chapel opened in 1980, over six million people have visited this woodland sanctuary.”
Thorncrown Chapel is located approximately 1,000 ft. from the Route 91 (or Blue Route) alternate route identified by SWEPCO.
“Locating high voltage transmission facilities so near the Chapel would be extremely detrimental to and totally incompatible with the Chapel,” the petition states. “The proposed facilities would be harmful to Thorncrown both economically and aesthetically. The Institute and AIAArkansas have a direct and unique interest in this proceeding as the proposed Route 91 alternate route is directly at odds with efforts to preserve and protect architecturally significant structures for the architecture professions and the public’s benefit.”
Reed said that the 150-ft.-tall towers would basically “greet” people when they turned into Thorncrown Chapel.
“That is so opposite of what Thorncrown is about, which is organic architecture tied to the environment in an extremely important way,” Reed said. “E. Fay Jones was the architect, and the way he described it was like someone dropped a seed there and it grew up out of the ground. It has that strong a tie to its setting. If you harm the setting, you harm the building.”
There is another building on the grounds, the Worship Center, that has similar design elements to the Thorncrown Chapel. At the bottom of the amphitheater-style seating there is a stage backed by a 50-ft.-tall window overlooking pristine forests. The tall high voltage towers would be highly visible from the window that now shows little that is man made.
“It would basically ruin the building,” Reed said. “I don’t know if anyone would want to use it with a view of a huge power line. We are also concerned about herbicides used to maintain the powerline. We are on a well out here. And we are concerned about noise. What we have heard from various sources is that these are very loud when you get that much power going through such enormous lines.”
One silver lining in the outpouring of responses in support of Thorncrown is that it has been heartening that so many people have taken time to comment against the SWEPCO proposal.
“It is a shame to have something like this to see how much people appreciate you, but our whole staff has been greatly moved by this,” Reed said.
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