Archive for the ‘chapel’ Category


Saarinen and Bose?
Architecture and music?!

I was asked to describe the journey into Eero Saarinen’s chapel at MIT.

One thing that amazes me about it is how in such a small volume it moves so much air and space.

Which got me thinking about something else associated with MIT that moves a lot of air inside a small volume….

The Bose Wave
How it works.

Only because the two tunnels fold back and forth can enough air be moved in the right way to create a rich, full sound. This is hard to achieve in such a small enclosure.

Inventor Amar Bose is a famous MIT alum.


But the journey in. First of all, the chapel tells you before you even get in, of its Roman ancestry and its connection to its Italian cousin, the Roman Pantheon. This chapel is built of brick (also the typical Boston building material), with arches, and even an “excavated” area around it as if it were antique

To enter the Pantheon, you pass through a portico.

Here too.

The little tunnel is an important part of the journey. The contemplative space inside could not be directly connected to the rest of the world; there must be a passage to it, and in modernist spirit Saarinen also has us make a 90 degree turn just after entering the portico/tunnel. This helps to leave daily life behind. Some people say it also means the bad spirits can’t follow you.

And then once inside,

Manna-ist Architecture. The finest example of “manna-ism” in the world? It is, I suppose, rivaled for effect by another work in Rome

But back to the Modern. And its connections to the past. In Saarinen’s chapel the steps and base of the altar are Roman travertine. The altar is marble.
Too bad the eye at the top of this is not open to the sky, but that wasn’t exactly the thinking in 1955 when this went up.

The shapes connect as in classical buildings which often put patterns on the floors that reprise the ceiling and thus create a cosmos.

I wonder when we’ll see chapels, like sports stadia, with retractable domes?

And only a Modernist would make a dome with a flat roof. But here, the eye creates the dome, and the sculpture atop the building creates a top point for you.

Did you know that Aaron Copland’s “Canticle of Freedom” was commissioned by MIT for the opening of the chapel and Eero Saarinen’s nearby Kresge Auditorium?

So back to music. The Pantheon has niches in the walls, Saarinen’s walls undulate to make the space seem larger than it is and to form modern, more secular niches. The space flows gracefully around these and seems to pick up speed. It swirls around like a vortex. Does the air turn into sound waves?

That horizontal movement excites the vertical movement above the altar.

Finally, Mr. Saarinen knew his little chapel would be right across Massachusetts Avenue from

another Pantheon-like Great Dome at MIT.


(Bottom photo grabbed from the web. Congrats guys, whoever you are! Going to work for Bose?)