Air Force Cadet Chapel
As part of the recent holiday, we set out for a trip to all inspiring Air Force Chapel in Colorado Springs.
Even with seeing the chapel in images many times throughout my life, there is no comparison for the experience of immersing yourself in the heart of the space.
Though the Cadet Chapel was completed in 1963, it still has the qualities and presence of a modern day masterpiece. The stated mission of the Air Force Chaplain and the Cadet Chapel is “to inspire men and women to become leaders of character by providing spiritual care and facilitating the free exercise of religion.” This structure does just that and no doubt why it is the only Colorado building that has been awarded the American Institute of Architects’ prestigious Twenty-Five Year Award, which recognizes architectural works of “enduring significance.”
The chapel is a masterpiece of glass, steel, and aluminum, a breathtaking place of worship dominated by 17 identical spires resembling fighter jets pierce the Colorado sky.
Inside, massive tetrahedrons are separated by colorful ribbons of stained glass. The Cadet Chapel has two main levels and a smaller basement level, with rooms for each of the three major religions represented in the Air Force plus multi-faith rooms for cadets of other faiths. Each chapel has a separate entrance and services can be carried out simultaneously without interfering with one another.
The Protestant Chapel, occupying the upper level, has a 99-foot-high pinnacled ceiling and stained glass windows between the tetrahedrons of the walls. The window colors graduate from dark to light, representing coming from darkness into the light of God. The floor is gray-white terrazzo.
The Catholic Chapel, occupying part of the main level, has side walls of amber glass panels accentuated by strip windows of multi-colored cast glass. The nave is 55 by 95 feet in size.
As with most great pieces of architecture, It wasn’t without controversy. SOM’s design for the academy, unveiled in 1955 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, was widely criticized, particularly by some members of Congress, who held the purse strings for the project. Rep. John Fogarty, a Democrat from Rhode Island, declared that the design was “not American in conception and is unworthy of the traditions of this nation.” The great Frank Lloyd Wright, part of a group of architects competing for the job, blasted SOM’s scheme as “a glassified box on stilts.”
But the Air Force wanted modern—in part to distinguish itself from the other military academies—and that’s what it got. On Aug. 29, 1958, 1,145 cadets moved from their temporary quarters at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver to their gleaming new campus near Colorado Springs. In 2004, the Cadet Area—which includes the chapel—was designated a National Historic Landmark.