The last couple of weeks I’ve been sharing scenes from around the mountains in Colorado (week 1, week 2), and I’d like to transition this week to architecture.  Colorado certainly has its fair share of nice buildings in beautiful settings, but when it comes to pure architecture admiration, there’s really just one you should concern yourself with (at least in my opinion), and that’s the Cadets Chapel on the campus of the United States Air Force Academy.

Anyone that has known me since my school years knows that I always wanted to be in the Air Force.  Specifically I wanted to be a fighter pilot.  Like most guys my age, I saw Top Gun and immediately decided that was the life for me (yes I understand that was a move about the Navy… no need to trip over nuance here).  In my late Middle School and early High School years I used to dream of attending the Air Force Academy and then going on to fly F-16s.  Then some where around my junior year in High School it occurred to me that I should look into the requirements of doing all these things… and turns out I should have probably done this MUCH earlier, as I’d basically already missed the boat (I had mediocre grades at best, never lettered in a high school sport, wasn’t an Eagle Scout, oh and I was too tall to fly an F-16… minor details).  Ah 16-year-old-Dan, you should have done better in school!  Anyway, that dream was quickly replaced (I was too shallow to be bummed for long) and I moved on, BUT, I’ve since always wanted to visit the Academy, just to see what it’s like.  Top Gun fantasy or not (and yes, the Air Force had it’s own movies in the Iron Eagle series… but lets be real, those were terrible), it definitely worth a visit!

The charter of the Cadets Chapel is as fascinating as its architecture, to house all religions under one roof.  Inside the building are worship areas for Protestants and Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and then an area for all different types of religions not represented elsewhere in the building.  Each area’s architecture was specifically designed to accommodate each religion, with associated symbolism and tradition, and as we toured the facility with one of the docents, it seemed that there was nothing done that was not intentional in the design.  Just as an example, in the above image of the inside of the Protestant area, notice that the colors of the stained glass transition from colder tones at the back of the building, to more warmer tones towards the front, representing mans journey from sin to salvation.  Beyond the religious references, the architecture also has obvious hints and nods toward the Air Force itself.  The pew ends are all shaped like the blade of a propeller, made of wood, while the leading edge of the back of the pew is made of metal shaped like the edge of a wing.  The formal, raised pulpit is shaped to be reminiscent of a rocket (not seen in the picture above), tying in past, present, and future into the overall design.  Pretty impressive stuff that frankly I would have missed had we not had a guide!  Finally, no mention of the architecture of the Cadets Chapel would be complete without a view of the outside; its just as impressive as the inside.  Below I’ve included a second picture for this very reason.  🙂

If you’re ever in the Denver area, I’d highly recommend the quick trip down to Colorado Springs (it takes an hour or less, depending on where you are in Denver) to see the Academy.  There is MUCH more to see there than the Chapel (and the Chapel itself is scheduled to be closed for renovation for the next several years, so you’ll have to enjoy it from the outside), but I could have spent hours more in just that one spot!

–Dan Thompson

United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel

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