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Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel – Colorado Springs

I had always seen photographs in textbooks of the Chapel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and knew I wanted to see it in person one day. A year ago I was in Denver for a friend’s wedding and decided that it was well worth the hour+ drive down to make it happen. It’s weird because, in addition to being the Air Force Academy – just another college, I thought – the Academy is also an active military base, albeit one that welcomes visitors after the requisite scan of your car’s underbelly and a cursory glance in your trunk. It’s also located in the middle of nowhere, tucked right up against the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in the middle of Colorado. The chapel really does look like an alien craft that’s landed in the desert, set against the most extraordinary mountain backdrop. The interior is no less foreign. By and large, it is dominated by the rather mundane stuccoed interior of the aluminum ‘airplane wings’ of Walter Netsch’s unusual design.  The beauty, though, of his SOM (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) team’s design was the tiny shaft windows that they inserted between the folded aluminum plates, filling them with rudimentary colored glass ’tiles’ that, in turn, flood the interior with a cacophony of colored light.  It hadn’t occurred to me at the time but, having recently been reminded by photos of it, one can’t help but make comparisons to the glorious stained glass of Paris’ Sainte Chappelle and the rest of it’s European gothic brethren.