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Eero Saarinen’s Design of the MIT Chapel


In designing the MIT Chapel, Eero Saarinen aimed to capture an environment “which was not derived from a particular religion but from basic spiritual feelings.”

Major funding for American Masters — Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future is provided by the A. Alfred Taubman Foundation. Additional funding is provided in part by American Institute of Architects, National Endowment for the Arts, The Durst Family, Vital Projects Fund, Eric and Katherine Larson Family Fund, MCR Development LLC, Gerald D. Hines, Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown, KieranTimberlake, KPF Foundation, and Daryl and Steven Roth Foundation.

Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Lenore Hecht Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.


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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