April 7th, 2009 [Gentry_AR_USA]
We wished Brad a fond farewell and started down the road to Gentry, Arkansas, home of Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. Gentry is an incredibly small town and the chapel is constructed in the middle of the woods, though when it was built originally in 1980 it was even more isolated than it is today. As mentioned before, the town is incredibly small, the population was estimated around 2200 souls in the 2000 census. Matt and I pulled our car into the incredibly friendly information center in what I would assume is downtown and got the helpful advice to also visit the fire watching tower out in the parking lot. It would have been a good idea if the entry to the tower wasn't a fickle money stealing machine with bad intentions. Since it had taken our last quarter I had to hop the back of the fence and hope we weren't chased out of town for trespassing. About halfway up Matt mentioned he wasn't entirely over his fear of heights and as soon as we reached the top I realized I had now established a healthy fear of falling to my death as well. We only saw a few parts of the heavily wooded country on fire, and figuring that someone else would tell the Gentrians we climbed down and proceeded over to the Thorncrown.
Fay Jones designed the structure of Thorncrown in a way that two able bodied men could carry any necessary pieces into the forest. Therefore the building materials are composed of just pressure treated 2x4's, 2x6's, and 2x12's and able to be brought in without disturbing the pristine site. The philosophy of the construction had a direct impact on the design and was most likely the predominant reason that the chapel is able to achieve such a light and airy countenance. Since all of the structural members were small to begin with, strength was gained by building up wooden pieces in order to form larger beams and columns, though the largest used were still relatively minute. I've since left my sketchbook with notes on an airplane [curse you Taca Airlines!], but if I memory serves the main columns are only at the front and back of the chapel, with all of the infill columns being constructed of a sandwich system of 2x6's and 2x4's, also incorporating all of the minimal lighting and electrical elements into the cavity created by building up the wooden members. The sandwich system also allowed the spanning beams that held up the ceiling to join the columns on the inside, thereby creating a stronger structural system even though the vast majority was only wood with extremely long spans [The only steel used is in the diamond shaped connection pieces holding together the wooden beams].
After some sweet talking and petty bribery we were able to get the nice lady taking tickets to go to the front of the chapel and sing a few hymns. I can say without blushing that Clarice [I can't remember her real name, but Clarice is a beautiful name and should serve the purpose] was one of the finest singers I have ever heard, and shutting your eyes in that magical place to hear her sweet notes was something that will stay with me forever. Acoustically it is incredibly well defined, and the sound reverberates so much that you feel guilty shuffling in your seat if others are present. I was also surprised by the minimal way that the Christian religion was treated in the interior and exterior. The only noticeable cross to speak of is outside of the chapel at the far end, nestled in between a few moss covered boulders, and is very small and modest when compared to the size of the rest of the church. The real religion for me present was its connection with the surrounding forest, not being able to easily separate sacred space and nature. To the left of the church the hillside fled away to find a lower position while the right side continued to climb upwards, creating another wall of wood and underbrush when looking in that direction. I've heard since that the chapel is the highest sought after place to married, needing booking a year or more in advance, and its easy to see why.
April 7th-9th, 2009 [Austin_TX_USA]
One of our close friends, Jeff Watson, from back in the 205 Ashe Ave. days lives in Austin, so we were legally compelled to visit him on the way to our next stops. Jeff is attending UT right now for architecture and has picked up scrap-booking as a hobby. While we were in town an eerily creepy exhibition by the artist Arthur Ganson was going on in one of UT's buildings. Ganson is known for creating machines that intricately move, with countless gears, pistons, wires, and anything else he can get his hands on. They were incredibly complex and even staring at many of them for several minutes I still couldn't figure out how they were moving. Above are some shots from the exhibit for your viewing pleasure, as well as my personal favorite, a wishbone pulling a giant metal wheel.
Before leaving we took a few canoes out on the Colorado river with Jeff's girlfriend Sarah for a relaxing float and semi-competitive racing between boats. The trip was delightfully uneventful with no turn overs and Jeff only tried to scuttle us 2 or 3 times. Our visit was at an end however, so we jumped in Lucille and headed away to the next part of our journey, Pinecote Pavilion! [another Fay Jones project]
April 10th, 2009 [Picayune_MS_USA]
On our way to Rural Studio in Alabama we wanted to swing by and see another Fay Jones project in Mississippi near a town called Picayune. The project in question is the Pinecote Pavilion, an outside non-religious pavilion set in the middle of a deep marshland. To get to the pavilion you walk along a series of wooded trails for about 15 minutes before finally coming into a small clearing approaching the wooden structure. I have to say though, surprised as I was, I fell I was even more mesmerized by Pinecote than Thorncrown. Even though the building is not devoted to a religious purpose, you still get a feeling that it is a sacred space, talking in hushed tones and shuffling around instead of striding. Maybe its the lack of glass, I'm not sure, but it feels even more light and delicate, even though the roof is gigantic and comes down to the scale of a person in the eaves. There are many similar details and materials as Thorncrown, again using a combination of 2x's for most all of the structure.
Everything is based on a modular grid, and even the flooring material of brick and wood edging is used to panelize and further break down the space into smaller parcels. The scale of the human body is never made to feel overpowered, even though the structure itself is great in height and length. By bringing down the roof to almost eye level also serves to screen those inside and never make them feel small by comparison. The lattice work of joists, beams, and bracing members forms an intricate wooden spider web of structure, connecting pieces together with sometimes 6 or 7 joining together at one location. Another way the pavilion creates a sense of immateriality is by dissolving the edges of the roof at every chance. The center of the roof is split open by a skylight, only allowing the joists to connect for support. At the sides and ends, the many layered rood under structure begins to break up. First holding back wooden shingles, then sublayer, and finally only carrying out 1x3's further, creating a mix of shadows and opacity when looking on.
Matt and I couldn't stay long as we had to get back on the road to Alabama, but our next stop was Rural Studio, so we jumped in and hit the pavement.
Thoughts on Traveling #15 : Never store apple sauce in your bookbag, its sure to end in heartbreak and sticky fingers.