I opened this month's #Architalk email as I was getting off a train on a my morning commute. I saw that this month’s topic was
Whats my Favorite Place???!?
My immediate response took me no thought and I said it out loud with a mouth full of food as I stepped off the train into the rain:
The MIT Chapel
I love that little chapel in Boston. It’s like an old friend.
It was built in 1955 and designed by Euro Saarinen. It’s quietly tucked on the edge of the MIT Campus, just off the extremely busy Massachusetts Avenue and very close to the Charles River. It was designed to provide a sanctuary that is not specific to any religion for anyone to go to.
The chapel is a windowless brick cylinder that sits inside of a moat of water. The interior is a very peaceful and cerebral place, completely disconnecting it from the madness outside.
You arrive through a long skinny hallway that transitions you inside the brick cylinder.
Inside it is very quiet and reduces the sounds of the outside world into a soothing hum.
Light enters into the chapel from above and cascades and reflects light down a beautiful sculpture. Light also bounces up into the space off the water in the moat and up through low horizontal windows, bringing a glimmer on the curvy brick walls. When the wind blows the water in the moat shifts or the clouds move through the sky the chapel looks like it is breathing.
I have visited the chapel many times and much like an old friend I feel like I check in with the MIT Chapel every few years when I am visiting Boston.
A Moment in Time
Many years ago, when I lived in Boston I used to ride my bike here regularly and sit quietly, letting the bricks hold me like a baby.
I first visited this place when I was 21 years old and I had just began my very first semester of architecture school at the Boston Architectural Center. One of my Professors took a few of us here on a field trip after class one September afternoon.
This was an interesting time in my life. My mind had just been starting to get blown apart and rewired from architecture school. I was extremely excited and enthusiastic about architecture and design. I felt like everything I learned in design school was “The Best Thing Ever!”
I had been taking technical drafting classes at a community college. Finally transitioning to a real design school and starting to learn the fundamentals of design was long overdue and it was a bit of a struggle to get to arrive that point. I felt extremely grateful to be in Boston. It was the first time in my life I was ever excited about school.
Two days after my first visit to the MIT Chapel, 9/11 happened. I had several family members or people I knew personally, who were killed or had very traumatic experiences that day. Boston was a very anxious place to live at that time. Everyone was really scared and the police were basically arresting people all over the place looking for terrorists.
On the outside, everyone I knew and all of America was dealing with this tragic awful event.
On the inside, I was being reborn and starting to lay the groundwork for a beautiful new life and passion with architecture and design.
I go back here every few years when I’m in Boston and think about everything that has happened since my first visit here. All the highs and lows architecture has brought to my life.
Since discovering the MIT Chapel, I have studied, designed and visited a million places, many of which are more architecturally perfect and interesting places. However at first response I always come back to this simple little sanctuary as my favorite place.
Thanks for reading.
Images courtesy of my friend Liao Yusheng visit his site for more beautiful architectural photography. http://figure-ground.com