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Renewing a place of faith

Iconic MIT Chapel closes until 2015 for a substantial renewal; programs move to other locations.
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Fencing and temporary walkways will be installed around the MIT Chapel (W15) as part of a five-month renovation project.
Fencing and temporary walkways will be installed around the MIT Chapel (W15) as part of a five-month renovation project.
Image: Lee Kennedy

Singular and cylindrical, iconic and graceful, the MIT Chapel (W15) has served the Institute community for close to six decades – and is now the focus of a substantial renewal effort that begins today, Monday, Sept. 15.

Work on the Chapel will continue through February, during which time the building will be closed. During the months of its closure, programs have arranged for alternative spaces for worship and other activities that would normally take place in the Chapel. Please visit the Religious Life website for relocation information, schedules, and updates.

A plan for renewal

During the renewal, the Chapel's stained glass walls will be repaired, restored, and protected; its spire and bell tower will be removed temporarily to allow the roof to be replaced. Exterior work will include brick repair and repointing, and the rebuilding of the central skylight. 

The Chapel's moat will be rebuilt to incorporate a new filtration system and design elements to prevent water leakage. This work will restore the beauty of the moat, which allows soft secondary light to fill the Chapel through openings at the base of its walls.

Inside, the Chapel's travertine floors will be upgraded and renewed, brick will be cleaned, wood surfaces will be refinished as needed, and new railings will be added to the organ loft. Plumbing, fire protection, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems will be replaced or upgraded as needed.

Landmark building

Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, the Chapel was dedicated along with Saarinen’s Kresge Auditorium in May 1955. The round, windowless structure features a domed central skylight that illuminates a cascading metal sculpture of rods and crosspieces, created by Harry Bertoia as an altarpiece screen. At the time of the dedication, some members of the MIT community found the Chapel’s modernist architecture an affront to the classical style found elsewhere on campus. James Killian, then MIT's president, responded by saying, “MIT should be forward-looking in its architecture as well as in its research and education.”

Today, the Chapel serves as a nondenominational gathering place for the MIT community, offering space for worship, meditation, and private ceremonies. The renewal project will help preserve this unique building as a welcoming place of faith for generations to come.

Navigating the site

A site fence will be installed around the work area today. To facilitate access around the site, a temporary walkway will be established on the west side of the Chapel, facing Kresge Auditorium. Amherst Street will remain open during the renovation project.

Questions about this project can be directed to Brian Healy of MIT's Department of Facilities:

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