by Vanna Villa

From the outside, the chapel is a simple, windowless brick cylinder set inside a very shallow concrete moat. It is 50 feet (15 m) in diameter and 30 feet (9.1 m) high, and topped by an aluminum spire. The brick is supported by a series of low arches. Saarinen chose bricks that were rough and imperfect to create a textured effect. The whole is set in two groves of London Planetrees, with a long wall to the east, all designed by Saarinen. The wall and trees provide a uniform background for the chapel, and isolate the site from the noise and bustle of adjacent buildings.


Within is an intimate space, stunning in its immediate visual impact. Windowless interior walls are undulating brick. Like a cascade of light, a full-height metal sculpture by Harry Bertoia glitters from the circular skylight down to a small, unadorned marble altarNatural light filters upward from shallow slits in the walls catching rippling reflected light from the moat; this dim ambient light is complemented by artificial lighting. The chapel’s curving spire and bell tower were designed by the sculptor Theodore Roszak and was added in 1956.


The chapel has an excellent organ that was custom-designed for the space by Walter Holtkamp of the Holtkamp Organ Company, located in Cleveland, Ohio. Holtkamp was instrumental in the 1950s, in the revival of the classic school of organ-building.


Leland M. Roth included the building in his History of American Architecture, using it to illustrate the contrast between Saarinen’s approach and that of Mies van der Rohe (who designed a chapel for IIT). Roth said that “through the sheer manipulation of light and the its focus on a blazingly white marble altar block, Saarinen created a place of mystic quiet”.

You may also like

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More