In addition to site and precedent visits, it’s inevitable that we take students to MIT and Harvard when we go to Boston. The collection of buildings on the two campuses is museum-like, and the architects who’ve worked at MIT in particular have generally risen to the occasion–I.M. Pei, Alvar Aalto, and in particular Eero Saarinen did some of their best work within a few minutes’ walk of one another.
The two Saarinen buildings–a chapel and a lecture hall–are always a good stop. Both buildings are simple, quiet, immaculately detailed, and fearless in their expression of a basic idea. The chapel is a simple brick cylinder, with a small skylight above the altar and a carefully orchestrated entry sequence involving an intentionally under-sized corridor and a changingperspective that gradually reveals the interior and altar. The group never fails to wander in total silence, which I think Saarinen would have liked. The lecture hall echoes some of the chapel’s geometry; it’s a segmental spheroid shell that rests on three nimble supports, and it has an early steel curtain wall that’s suspended between the shell and the ground. The detailing isn’t as precise as aluminum later allowed, but it shows how the wall was made, and how it stands up against wind in particular.
After these two, we take our group to Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, leaking and falling to bits after being open for three years. After seeing the subtle competence of the two Saarinen buildings, we don’t have to say a word.