The MIT Chapel (dedicated 1955) is a non-denominational chapel designed by noted architect Eero Saarinen. It is located on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, next to Kresge Auditorium and Kresge Oval, which Saarinen also designed. Though a small building, the Chapel is often noted as a successful example of mid-Century modern architecture in the US. Saarinen also designed the landscaping surrounding all three.
Leland M. Roth included the building in his History of American Architecture, using it to illustrate the contrast between Saarinen's approach and that of Mies van der Rohe (who designed a chapel for IIT). Roth said that "through the sheer manipulation of light and the its focus on a blazingly white marble altar block, Saarinen created a place of mystic quiet."
From the outside, the chapel is a simple, windowless brick cylinder set inside a very shallow concrete moat. It is 50 feet (15 m) in diameter and 30 feet (9.1 m) high, and topped by an aluminum spire. The brick is supported by a series of low arches. Saarinen chose bricks that were rough and imperfect to create a textured effect. The whole is set in two groves of birch trees, with a long wall to the east, all designed by Saarinen. The wall and trees provide a uniform background for the chapel, and isolate the site from the noise and bustle of adjacent buildings.
Within is an intimate space, stunning in its immediate visual impact. Windowless interior walls are undulating brick. Like a cascade of light, a full-height metal sculpture by Harry Bertoia glitters from the circular skylight down to a small, unadorned marble altar. Natural light filters upward from shallow slits in the walls catching rippling reflected light from the moat; this dim ambient light is complemented by artificial lighting. The chapel's curving spire and bell tower was designed by the sculptor Theodore Roszak and was added in 1956.
The chapel has an excellent organ that was custom-designed for the space by Walter Holtkamp of the Holtkamp Organ Company, located in Cleveland, Ohio. Holtkamp was instrumental in the 1950s, in the revival of the classic school of organ-building.
In the summer of 2014, MIT started the first comprehensive renovation of the Chapel since its original construction. The moat will be rebuilt to repair leaks and to allow it to be refilled with water which will be recirculated and filtered. The external envelope of the building will be repaired, and internal restoration and improvements to mechanical systems will be performed. The Chapel is expected to reopen in February 2015.
With the impending demolition of nearby Bexley Hall and its replacement by a landscaped garden, the MIT Chapel will become more visible from Mass Ave for the first time. The renovations are expected to preserve the Chapel as a sanctuary of tranquility, just steps from the bustling 77 Mass Ave entrance to the Infinite Corridor, from Kresge Auditorium, and from the Stratton Student Center.
- Leland M. Roth (2003). American Architecture: A History. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3662-7., p. 437
- "Altarpiece for MIT Chapel". MIT List Visual Arts Center. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2014-10-10.
- Theodore Roszak: Working Drawings for MIT Bell Tower, MIT List Visual Arts Center, August 15 - December 16, 2005
- "Bell Tower for MIT Chapel". MIT List Visual Arts Center. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2014-10-10.
- MIT Chapel undergoing major maintenance and renovations - The Tech
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