Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes interior by Lloyd Wright Architect
Wayfarers Glass Chapel Interior | © Kevin Lee Vu

The Wayfarers Chapel, located in Palos Verdes, California, is a masterpiece of organic architecture designed by Lloyd Wright, the son of the renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Chapel was built in 1951 and has since become a treasured landmark, attracting visitors from all over the world. Wright envisioned the Chapel as a serene sanctuary amidst nature, blending in seamlessly with its surroundings.

The stunning glass structure features a soaring triangular design with a clear glass roof, allowing natural light to flood the interior space. The Chapel is renowned for its use of materials such as stone, redwood, and glass, which create a harmonious and natural atmosphere. Due to its unique architectural design and cultural significance, the Wayfarers Chapel has been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as one of the foremost examples of organic architecture.

Wayfarers Glass Chapel Technical Information

Wayfarers Glass Chapel Photographs

Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes exterior by Lloyd Wright Architect
© Amy Theilig
Wayfarers Chapel entrance by Lloyd Wright Architect
© Amy Theilig
Glass and wood detail
© ArchEyes
Wayfarers Chapel original photograph from 1951
Wayfarer Chapel in 1951. Source: https://www.wayfarerschapel.org/

Wayfarers Chapel, also known as “The Glass Church,” is located in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, and was dedicated to travelers needing spiritual nourishment. It has no permanent congregation.

It is noted for its unique modern architecture and location on cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. It was commissioned by members of the Swedenborgian Church of North America and served as a memorial to its founder, Emanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborgians Elizabeth Schellenberg and Narcissa Cox Vanderlip dreamed up plans for a chapel above the sea, where travelers of all faiths could stop into a commune with God and nature.

They hired renowned architect Lloyd Wright to design the Chapel at a fortuitous point in his life. He recently had visited a redwood grove in Northern California and had been deeply influenced by the feel of the massive trees and overhanging canopy.

The Chapel was designed in the late 1940s and was built between 1949 and 1951. Wright departed from the tradition of using masonry to “achieve a delicate enclosure that allows the surrounding landscape to define the sacred space.” Additions were built in later years, including a tower and a visitor center, the latter of which had been lost in a landslide during the 1960s.

Wayfarers Chapel Floor Plan

Wayfarers Chapel floor plan
Wayfarers Chapel Floor Plan | © Lloyd Wright

Lloyd Wright, who shortened his name from Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. to help mold his own identity, used 30/60-degree angles because they occur naturally in snowflakes, crystals, and tree branches. The trees on both sides are coastal redwoods. Above the altar, framed in the glass circle, is a toyon tree. Observe how the growing trees form the walls. The stone capping the altar is a variety of Palos Verdes stone called Moss Back. The lines in it were made during cutting.

The round windows over the front entrance and the altar symbolize the inclusiveness of the chapel and the Swedenborgian Church, which welcomes all people.

– Lloyd Wright

Lloyd Wright specified the plantings in the Chapel because they are found on the forest floor. They are intended to make the exterior and interior one. Plants growing outside are brought inside to make the glass enclosure as inconspicuous as possible.

The architect’s baptismal font was added in 1964 and represented a tiny underground mountain spring bubbling.

The diamond design on the floor reflects the diamond pattern of the ceiling. The glass creates a “live” chamber. Lloyd Wright designed the six triangular acoustic panels in the ceiling to balance the sound. They are painted a light blue-green to appear white, like fleecy clouds. At night, indirect lighting in the Chapel and spotlights in the chancel create a candlelight effect.

On the front lawn of the Chapel, Italian stone pine trees form arbored walkways around it. Planted in the ’50s at Lloyd Wright’s direction, they are just now reaching maturity.

From the Swedenborgian perspective, water symbolizes the divine truth that enables us to lead creative and useful lives. The pool’s triangular shape represents one of the basic teachings of Christianity: God as a triune being and individuals as having soul, mind, and body. The memorial fountain in the reflection pool was installed in 1984.

In 1954, the exterior planter walls were completed using 30/60 degree angles. The front stairway and lower parking were added in 1960.

The garden between the reflection pool and the Chapel features plantings duplicating the appearance of the floor of a redwood forest, such as azaleas, rhododendron, coral bells, irises, and a variety of ferns. The redwood trees form Lloyd Wright Grove. The center redwood was dedicated in April 2003, the 25th Anniversary of his passing.

The tower, planned as part of the original design, was completed in December 1954. Lloyd Wright conceived it as a “hallelujah” tower, with wings and a sense of soaring, like upraised hands holding the cross on high. The gold cross is 60 feet above the floor of the Chapel. The blue terra cotta roof tile was selected to match the blue sky, following the architect’s desire to use only natural colors. The tower is embedded in the ground two full stories and is firmly anchored into the hillside.

Many roses and other plantings throughout the grounds are living memorials donated to the Chapel. The Walk to Honor features pavers given to honor or memorialize significant events and people in the lives of wayfarers. Several plants in the garden are native to the Holy Land or are mentioned in the Bible: olive, fig, and apricot trees, aloe plants, lilies, Crown-of-Thorns, and over 100 rose bushes. From the beginning, Lloyd Wright was intimately involved in landscape design. The plantings were as significant as the architecture since they formed an integrated whole rather than two separate entities. The chapel complex is carefully landscaped following the architect’s land of the ’50s.

In 2004, a master Landscape Plan by Eric Lloyd Wright, the architect’s son, was adopted to guide future botanic development.

Lloyd Wright at Wayfarers Chapel
Lloyd Wright at the Wayfarers Chapel

Lloyd Wright used an unusual method to construct the various walls and pillars. Stones with their best side facing out were wired inside plywood forms. Cement was poured around them. When it was dry, the wires were cut, and the forms were removed. No cement touch-up work was permitted so that the unfinished appearance would carry the natural terrain into the walls.

Already well-known as a skilled practitioner of organic architecture, Lloyd Wright created one of the world’s most beautiful and evocative Organic Modern designs in Wayfarers Chapel. The building solidified his reputation as a master of building and landscape integration and stood as an icon of religious and contemplative architecture.

About Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. (March 31, 1890 – May 31, 1978), commonly known as Lloyd Wright, was an American architect, active primarily in Los Angeles and Southern California. He was a landscape architect for various Los Angeles projects (1922–24) and provided the shells for the Hollywood Bowl (1926–28). His name is frequently confused with his more famous father, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Works from Lloyd Wright