Honoured to present this morning my new contributor writer in my blog, Andrew Ferentinos, architect, industrial furniture designer, based in New York); “Imperfection in Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel” photos @Andrew Ferentinos www. andrewferentinos.com and follow on Instagram: Ferentinos
photo @Andrew Ferentinos
The MIT Chapel by Eero Saarinen has always intrigued me. The architecture is simple and direct. It embodies a rare universality and timelessness.
The chapel was dedicated in 1955 by the Kresge Foundation for The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its mission is to serve as a non-denominational space of worship. As the dedication at the entrance states, its purpose is “to maintain an atmosphere of religious freedom wherein students may deepen their understanding of their own spiritual heritage.” In other words the chapel must resonate and evoke feelings and thoughts with people across culture and time.
Upon approach, we see a cylinder sitting on top of a shallow pool of water. Low arches of various sizes skip across the pool and seem to hover. Underneath we see a concrete shell that is separate from the cylinder and barely visible. There are no windows in this large volume. We only see a blank wall and anticipate the interior.
The blank wall has an oddness about it. The brick has an irregular texture. Saarinen adopted rejected bricks from a brickworks precisely for the beauty in their imperfection, a subtle statement that goes beyond brick and mortar and speaks about the purpose of the chapel.
photo @Andrew Ferentinos
We enter the vestibule. It is dark and intimate. This long and slender space leads to the chapel through a small opening. As our eyes adjust to the dim light, the dark glass walls of the vestibule change color. They brighten. Like a monochromatic Ad Reinhardt painting, the dark glass releases subtle shades of color. Each pane of glass, like the brick, appears hand made reflecting the imperfections of the brick.
When we enter the chapel we are struck by what we see. We are caught between opposites. Our attention focuses on a perfectly geometric and rectangular marble altar at the center of the space. In the background, the interior walls undulate and radiate. The shimmering gold sculpture by Harry Bertoia flutters down from the oculus above like leaves falling to the ground. The varying angles of the petals mirror the varying angles of the imperfect brick. The entire chapel is a frozen moment in time and space except for the one solid piece of marble in the center. It is our only sense of stability, perfection, and permanence in an otherwise dynamic and irregular field. (Andrew Ferentinos)