Thursday, May 7, 2009
Mies Van Der Rohe designed only one religious building, the Chapel of Saint Savior on the IIT campus. It is composed of a simple design, where its modest structure is completely exposed. This is in contrast to the Gothic and Romanesque churches that we have studied through the ages. This different approach to a religious building shows humility and disclosure, things that are necessary in a religious experience.
Van Der Rohe is one of the most recognized architects of the 2oth century. Coming out of the Bauhaus movement, he pioneered the modern style and strived for simplicity in design. The Chapel of Saint Savior, also known as the Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel, was built in 1952. Therefore it is at the heart of the mid-century modern design movement. As the head of the architecture department of the IIT campus, Van Der Rohe designed 16 of the buildings located on it. Design and architecture is extremely important to this school, therefore there is a holistic approach taken to its planning. The chapel fits in perfectly with the clean lines of the other structures such as Crown Hall. However, it uses brick walls instead of a steel structure.
The building measures 37 feet wide, 60 feet long and 19 feet high. A load-bearing brick system makes up the walls, with an exposed beam ceiling. The altar is a solid block of Roman travertine with a stainless steel cross in front of it. Behind the altar is a graceful screen made of raw silk. This is the main interior décor in the space and in turn makes a large impact on the viewer. The structure and quality of materials provides for a sound design, abiding to the firmness requirement of architecture.
This semester we have looked at churches from the Middle Ages and Renaissance that were anything but minimal in style. Designers of these churches used paintings and stained glass windows to display biblical scenes on the walls of these cathedrals. They wanted to reach as far as they could into the sky to connect to heaven. Columns and flying buttresses were ornamented with many details, which were awe-inspiring to anyone in its presence. This is one approach to the design of religious buildings that we’ve seen. However, the 19th century was a time architects broke tradition and showed a new perspective on design.
The role of a church is a place of refuge and worship for a person. The design of this chapel fits perfectly with its function. Mies Van Der Rohe created large open spaces inside his buildings, which creates an all-encompassing feeling. This concept relates to the fact that it is a non-denominational church. People of all religions can gather in this space with one goal—to gather in worship. The clean lines and unadorned style of the space also creates a comfortable spot for meditation and reflection. The exposed beams on the ceiling show the humbleness of the design, as well as the fact that you can almost see the entire structure just by looking in the front windows. This shows that there is nothing to hide, just as what happens when a person enters a church.
From the outside, one would not know this was a church if they were not told. Some may view this as a drawback, however in the age of sustainability it is a success. This building can hold a variety of functions, from a church to a classroom. The function of a building or space doesn’t have to be instantly recognizable when looking at it. What’s more important is that people can inhabit the design and value its performance.