Eero Saarinen, with Anderson, Beckwith & Haible, 1954–1955
MIT’s need for a large auditorium and chapel to gather the MIT community had been an unfulfilled aspiration since MIT moved to the Cambridge campus in 1916. A site along the river next to Walker Memorial had been reserved for this purpose, but architect Eero Saarinen quite properly argued against it. Instead, he convinced MIT that these buildings should be sited here on the west side of Massachusetts Avenue, on the main visual and circulation axis of the campus.
Saarinen prepared the site plan as well as the architectural designs for the auditorium and chapel. The original plan called for a paved plaza between them, under which there was to be a parking facility. These features were eliminated for cost purposes and replaced with a green oval. Kresge’s main auditorium seats 1,200, and a little theatre 250.
The structure is an elegant thin-shell concrete dome, recalling the domes of the MIT main buildings. It was originally balanced on three corners with glass-walled public gathering spaces around the periphery. (The ball-and-socket design was later pinned and the foundation and walls reinforced after the thermal strains walked the balls out of the sockets!) The wood-paneled hall is arguably the finest twentieth-century auditorium space in the Boston region. The roof covering has been replaced several times due to the severe thermal behavior experienced by the roof as the sun passes over the building; the current roof is clad in copper.
Images: Above: Madcoverboy at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48819440. Below: ©Yonward