MIT Chapel Building
W15 77 Massachusetts Avenue
(entrance at 44 Massachusetts Avenue)
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
Eero Saarinen 1955
The chapel and the neighboring Kresge Auditorium are mid-century landmarks that serve as counterpoints to the urban, orthogonal campus at MIT. They are early works in Saarinen’s oeuvre and contribute to the star collection of buildings that grace the MIT campus.
The chapel is located on the western part of the campus, the large area dedicated to housing and recreation. Humble in its size and material, the diminutive building is essentially a rectangular narthex connected to a cylindrical chapel. The cylinder is surrounded by a moat, a subtle use of water to separate it further from the urban landscape and into its inner world of contemplation. The use of brick is a contrast to the concrete and steel Auditorium as well as a connection with the surrounding brick dormitories.
The interfaith building is careful to not invoke symbols or representations of any particular religion. Instead of using iconic representations, the building employs languages of light and form to awaken spirituality. The narthex is a small compressive place, a slightly awkward and normative wide corridor of clear and violet glass. It is tight so that one may be released into the 30-foot ceiling height of the extraordinary chapel.
While the exterior only gives a slight hint the possibilities of the inside, nothing prepares one for the eccentricities of this room. The chapel is organic. Its dark, undulating walls pulsate. The warm-hued brick surfaces have a texture like an old servant’s hand, rough and faithful, imprinted with memories from the years. The darkness is comforting and intimate, penetrated by only two otherworldly sources of light.
The light from the bottom comes from water reflected off of the moat to the interior of the building to tease the rippling walls. The other, the chapel’s centerpiece, is a hushed light from above the altar and dramatized by falling on a shimmering golden screen by sculptor Harry Bertoia. The effect is sublime.
2005 (updated 2010)
How to visit
The Chapel is Building W15, located on Amherst St., around the corner from Massachusetts Ave., on the MIT Campus near Kresge Auditorium and the Student Center.
It is accessible on the 1 MBTA bus, which goes down Mass Ave and has a stop at the Student Center, close to the Chapel. It is also accessible on the Red Line subway at the Kendall Stop. On-street and garage parking are also available around the campus.
Find it on MIT's interactive campus map at http://whereis.mit.edu.
The building is actively in use. There are Thursday noontime concert series free to the public and Campus ministries conducted throughout the week.
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