Eero Saarinen, MIT Chapel

Eero Saarinen

MIT Chapel, 1954


Eero Saarinen was born in Kirkkonummi, Finland in 1910 and emigrated with his family to the U.S. in 1923. He studied sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére in Paris in 1929-30 and architecture at Yale University, graduating in 1934.

After traveling in Europe on a scholarship, he returned to the U.S. to teach at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 1937, he collaborated with Charles Eames on a series of prize-winning furniture designs. He worked in the architectural office of his father until Eliel Saarinen’s death in 1950, when the firm became Eero Saarinen and Associates. In addition to Kresge Auditorium and the Chapel at MIT, Saarinen’s outstanding designs include Dulles International Airport, outside Washington, D.C.; the TWA Terminal, JFK Airport, New York; and the Gateway Arch, St. Louis. The last three projects were completed by Saarinen’s his partners, Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, after his death. Eero Saarinen died in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1961.

Building Number: W15

Accession Number: 5000.21

Audio Transcript - Interior

Stepping inside Eero Saarinen's MIT chapel is an unexpected experience.

The contrast between the outside and inside is what makes this building so brilliant. Instead of being circular, which is, of course, what one sees on the outside, one discovers that the walls on the interior have undulations in them that, like waves, ripple around the room, changing what would be a centralized space into a longitudinal space, making the space seem not round, but perhaps even oval.

The interior lighting was inspired by a moonlit night Saarinen spent in the Greek mountainside. From above, light cascades down Harry Bertoia's golden altar piece. From below, light filters up through the moat, enhancing the chapel subdued and contemplative atmosphere. More information about the chapel's exterior, its altar piece and spire, as well as Kresge Auditorium, is available on the List's website.