Boston Building Babble: MIT Chapel

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Screen @ MIT Chapel

Boston Building Babble gives you weekly insight on buildings across Beantown.  Feel free to use the random facts you learn to impress your co-workers, Barista, or T-driver.
Any suggestions for next week, feel free to contact me!

Up this week, the gorgeous MIT Chapel.

If you are looking for a place to reflect, relax, or unwind, this tiny chapel is a sanctuary nestled within MIT’s campus.


Comprised of red brick, this building from the outside is nondescript. At closer examination of the building, one will notice the subtle push and pull of the façade. Saarinen hand selected bricks that were imperfect and rough to create this textured effect.

MIT Chapel 19

The Chapel may not seem like much from the outside due to the windowless façade and lack of expressive detailing typically found in places of worship, but surprisingly experience inside is stark contrast from the outside.

Eastcoast USA August 2009

Once you enter the chapel, you will encounter a space highlighted by filtered natural light. Light cascades along the undulating walls of brick.

John Hill of A Daily Dose of Architecture remarked that,”a brick is a modular masonry unit, something that wouldn’t appear to “want to be” composed into undulating surfaces.”

Eero Saarinen transformed a simple material into a material that conjures ethereal emotions. By making a “moat” around the building, natural light is able to seep into the chapel without being viewed from the exterior.

MIT Chapel

One of the most iconic elements of the building is something that was not part of Eero’s design.  Saarinen commission Harry Bertoia to design a sculpture for the space.  Bertoia was Saarinen’s classmate at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, 18 years earlier. Bertoia hung a sculpture above the altar that allows light to trickle in and bounce off the curved walls of the chapel. This sculpture began a new era of modern sculpture “liberated from the base“.

MIT Chapel

An organ of great historic significance, the MIT Chapel Organ was built in 1955 by Walter Holtkamp, the most avant-garde organbuilder of his time. According to Holtkamp biographer John Ferguson, the organ “reveals Holtkamp, as much a radical in his field as Frank Lloyd Wright was in architecture.”

The Chapel is open 7am to 11pm 7 days a week. Organ concerts occur periodically over the year, here you can listen to recordings from past performances.

Every Thursday at noon you can attend a free concert in the chapel.

MIT Chapel