America

Rancho Palos Verdes

Emanuel Swedenborg was an odd dude even by the standards of the early 18th century that produced him. An acute and incisive scientific mind, he produced a string of remarkable insights into topics all the way from metallurgy and flying machines to neurons, pituitary glands, and the cerebral cortex. But he lived at a time when science and magical spirituality were still being disentangled from each other, so he lost no credibility when God appeared to him and gave him free and unlimited passage through heaven and hell. The resulting revelations, contained in Heaven and Hell and The Heavenly Doctrine, formed the basis of one of the more polite and democratic, if eccentric sects of the Christian church. Like most odd sects, the ultra-respectable Swedenborgians converted a handful of their fellow Swedes before finding their true footing in sect-happy America.

One of the more eccentric architectural families of the 20th century were the Wrights of Chicago and Los Angeles. Frank Lloyd Wright dispensed with any formal architectural education to become the greatest architect in American history. As such, he designed Fallingwater in Stewart Township, Pennsylvania, a wobbly house that many nevertheless consider the single most important design of the 20th century. Fallingwater epitomized Wright’s concept of Organic Architecture, where buildings are designed to blend into, rather than dominate, their environments. The philosophy thoroughly influenced Wright’s first son, known to all as Lloyd, another genius without formal education who started in landscape architecture and took his background with him into building design.

The result, shown here, is the Wayfarer’s Chapel on the cliffs of Palos Verdes above the Pacific Ocean. Lloyd planted a mini-forest around the spectacular, if tiny, glass-walled church with the intention of allowing the spiritual and physical worlds to blend seamlessly and harmoniously–and exactly the way the Swedenborgian clients claimed they should. Today, there is no better niche on the planet to experience a Pacific-style ocean storm in all its wonder and beauty, although most people settle for getting married in this ultimate lover’s chapel. Just make sure you reserve months in advance–the ultra-nice and egalitarian Swedenborgians will stage weddings for any denomination of any faith, and the place stays busy all year.

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