Eero Saarinen’s Design of the MIT Chapel


After many experiments exploring different
shapes and the site plan, the round cylindrical form seemed right. This circular shape also seemed right in plan,
for this was basically a chapel where the individual could come and pray, and he would
be in intimate contact with the altar. The challenge of the interior was to create
an atmosphere conducive to individual prayer. It was essential to create an atmosphere which
was not derived from a particular religion, but from basic spiritual feelings. A dark interior seemed right; an interior
completely separated from the outside world, to which the passage would serve as a sort
of decompression chamber. I have always remembered one night on my travels
as a student, when I sat in a mountain village in Sparta. There was bright moonlight overhead.Then there
was a soft, hushed secondary light around the horizon. That sort of bilateral lighting seemed best
to achieve this other-worldly sense. Thus, the central light would come from above
the altar, dramatized by the shimmering golden screen, and the secondary light would be light
reflected up from the surroundings through the arches. I am happy with the
interior of the chapel. I think we managed to make it a place where
an individual can contemplate things larger than himself.

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