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  7. AD Classics: MIT Chapel / Eero Saarinen

AD Classics: MIT Chapel / Eero Saarinen

AD Classics: MIT Chapel / Eero Saarinen
AD Classics: MIT Chapel / Eero Saarinen, © Flickr User: isabelle (CC BY-NC-SA)
© Flickr User: isabelle (CC BY-NC-SA)

© Flickr User: kathia shieh AD Classics: MIT Chapel / Eero Saarinen © Flickr User: j.czliao © Flickr User: kathia shieh +11

Eero Saarinen is one of the most respected architects of the 20th Century, often regarded as a master of his craft.  Known for his dynamic and fluid forms, his design for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s chapel takes on a different typology than his previous works.  Completed in 1955, the MIT Chapel is a simple cylindrical volume that has a complex and mystical quality within.  Saarinen’s simple design is overshadowed by the interior form and light that were meant to awaken spirituality in the visitor.

© Flickr User: kathia shieh
© Flickr User: kathia shieh

The non-denominational chapel is intended to be more than just a religious building, rather it’s meant to be a place of solitude and escape that induces a process of reflections.  Located at the heart of MITs campus, the chapel’s cylindrical form breaks the rigidity of the campus’s orthogonal grid.

© Flickr User: caribbeanfreephoto
© Flickr User: caribbeanfreephoto

Tucked away in a small forested area on campus, the windowless chapel sits as a simple object in the Kresge Oval.  Upon approaching the chapel, one encounters a shallow concrete moat that surrounds the chapel that seeps into the interior around a series of low arches that provide the structure for the chapel.  Once inside, the visitor is transported to a completely unexpected interior space that is unknown from the exterior façade.  The interior is inundated with a high level of detail and atmospheric qualities that are enhanced by filtered natural light.

Due to the windowless façade, the interior of the chapel is completely masked by the exterior of the volume.  Unlike the smooth uninterrupted façade, the interior brick walls undulate around the circumference of the chapel, which creates a new spatial dynamic that is illuminated by the moat that slips into the interior from outside.

© Flickr User: caribbeanfreephoto
© Flickr User: caribbeanfreephoto

In addition to the undulating walls, there is one main design feature in the interior of the chapel that was not part of Saarinen’s design, but nonetheless creates an impressive atmosphere.  Above the white marble altar, there is a metal sculpture by Harry Bertoia that hangs from the skylight that shimmers in the sunlight reflecting and distributing light into the interior of the chapel.  The sculpture appears as a cascading waterfall of light that is constantly adjusting, moving, and redefining the interior of the chapel.

© Flickr User: j.czliao
© Flickr User: j.czliao

From a distance, Saarinen’s chapel appears as nothing more than a brick building that contextually aligns with the dormitories and the older buildings on campus, but it’s inside of the chapel that the true architecture takes effect.  The dynamic interior essentially transforms into a light box that absorbs and filters the light from the small moat and the skylight. Light transforms the simple chapel into a chapel of light that is consistently undergoing changing atmospheric and dematerializing effects. Saarinen’s meticulous attention to detail regarding light transforms the spiritual space into a religious architectural experience that words cannot fully describe.

© Flickr User: kathia shieh
© Flickr User: kathia shieh

“Through sheer manipulation of light and its focus on a blazingly white marble altar block, Saarinen created a place of mystic quiet.” – Leland M. Roth

© Flickr User: j.czliao
© Flickr User: j.czliao
Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address. Cite: Eduardo Souza. "AD Classics: MIT Chapel / Eero Saarinen" 17 Feb 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/112682/ad-classics-mit-chapel-eero-saarinen/>
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18 Comments

rolando · August 21, 2012

One of my favorite building. The reports leaves out the entrance which prepares the visitor to a place of quiet and solitute with the Lord.

It is worth a visit

ix design · July 04, 2012

A must see if ever in Boston: the Saarinen chapel @MIT http://t.co/9XtTuRwc http://t.co/OqFe0f1i

JamesWa · September 09, 2011

What is the size of MIT. height, wide and length?

Bruno Bellomo · July 11, 2011

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vipcasa · February 27, 2011

Reading: "AD Classics: MIT Chapel / Eero Saarinen | ArchDaily"( http://twitthis.com/ik2zke )

Charles Cherney · February 25, 2011

Cambridge, MA. A modern classic: Eero Saarinen&#39s chapel (1955) at MIT - http://bit.ly/f1pS96 #CambridgeMA

AIA IFRAA KC · February 21, 2011

AD Classics: MIT Chapel / Eero Saarinen | ArchDaily - http://t.co/rsalPpf

Stuart Wheeler · February 19, 2011

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Ricky Berkey · February 19, 2011

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Marlos Hardt · February 18, 2011

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daqb design · February 18, 2011

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surapan tanta · February 18, 2011

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Michael Shapiro · February 18, 2011

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Xavier Juarez · February 18, 2011

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vivipatriajaya · February 18, 2011

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map-lab architects · February 18, 2011

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John P Whitaker · February 18, 2011

The most reverent places I&#39ve ever visited. Amazing building. AD Classics: MIT Chapel / Eero Saarinen http://archdai.ly/hF3iKN #architecture

up_today_arch · February 18, 2011

it was fantastic times of romantic architecture...

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