Renewing Two Saarinen Icons

The 1955 MIT Chapel Window Wall and Kresge Curtainwall

Overview

Authors

Photo of David N. Fixler, FAIA

David N. Fixler, FAIA

David Fixler Architecture Planning Preservation

david@davidfixler.com

Photo of Gary Tondorf-Dick, AIA, LEED AP

Gary Tondorf-Dick, AIA, LEED AP

Massachusetts Institute Of Technology

gtd@mit.edu

Photo of Katherine S. Wissink, PE

Katherine S. Wissink, PE

Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

kswissink@sgh.com

Photo of Matthew B. Bronski, PE

Matthew B. Bronski, PE

Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

mbbronski@sgh.com


Keywords


Abstract

Kresge Auditorium and the MIT Chapel, designed by Eero Saarinen and built in 1955, are both world renowned works of architecture and powerful symbols of MIT’s commitment in the post-war era to the creation of a humanistic campus community to complement and enhance their status as one of the world’s great technical universities. Conceived as simple, powerful and expressive geometric forms, Kresge and the Chapel each feature an unusual, custom-designed curtainwall (Kresge) and window wall (Chapel) that are character-defining features of these iconic works of mid-century modernist architecture.

In planning a comprehensive renewal of the two landmark buildings, MIT sought to preserve and maintain the iconic Saarinen designs, while also addressing deterioration, fundamental shortcomings, and improving performance. While the comprehensive renewal project included many interior and exterior materials and systems, this paper focuses on the curtainwall and window wall. The success of the project was due in large part to the highly collaborative, integrated design assist process with MIT, the general contractor, four curtainwall/ glazing/stained glass subcontractors, architect, structural, envelope and MEP FP engineers all collaborating from early mock-ups, prototypes, and testing, through final design, shop drawings, construction, and punchlisting.

Both designs retained key components of the original fabric, such as the steel support structure at Kresge and the original German art glass at Chapel, while replacing worn and deteriorated aluminum or steel components sections with laser welded stainless steel. On Kresge, our design optimized both performance and historic appearance by replacing annealed monolithic glazing with high-performing laminated glass with a low e coating, while on the Chapel our design laminated the German art glass to improve its resistance to breakage (a recurrent problem), and also improve life safety. Overall, our collaborative design and construction process developed an optimal solution through sympathetic, technical improvements to solve original problems, as well as evolutionary upgrades that balanced the demands of historic preservation and high-performance design.

Introduction

Kresge Auditorium and the MIT Chapel, designed by Eero Saarinen and built in 1955, are both world renowned works of architecture and powerful symbols of MIT’s commitment in the post-war

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Overall Approach to and Objectives for the Project

Overview

MIT has undertaken an intensive Capital Renewal Campaign and Program that began in 1996 with the rehabilitation of Alvar Aalto’s Baker House, in which many iconic campus buildings have

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Renewal and Restoration

Renewal and restoration of both of these iconic buildings required collaborative teamwork between architects, engineers, contractors, fabricators, installers and artists. In the end MIT received updated facilities with almost no

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Assessment of Existing Conditions

Kresge Auditorium Curtainwall

The original curtainwall construction consisted of an interior steel frame supporting an exterior glazing system of aluminum and glass (Fig. 2). The glazing frame was constructed primarily

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Design

Kresge Auditorium Curtainwall

Evaluation of the existing curtainwall was based on the following considerations to determine if it could be repaired in-kind, or if it had to be replaced in

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Fabrication and Construction

Kresge Auditorium Curtainwall

As with most 50+ year old buildings, the individual as-built dimensions varied from those shown on the original drawings, which created a measurement, fabrication, and construction tolerance

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Conclusion and Future Work

The project addresses many of the issues that confront working with mid-century modern structures. Although our project was extremely exacting, and the profiles and materials highly unusual, the general challenges

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Acknowledgements

Renewal and restoration of both iconic buildings required collaborative teamwork between the owner, architects, engineers, contractors, fabricators, installers and artists. In the end MIT received updated facilities with almost no perceptible difference in appearance – except to correct unsympathetic later interventions – which in this case is exactly what was desired.

MIT would like to credit and acknowledge the excellence of the entire Kresge Auditorium and Chapel Project teams.

Design (for both Kresge Auditorium and MIT Chapel)

Architect, MEP & Fire Protection Engineer: EYP Architecture and Engineering, Inc.
Structural and Envelope Engineers: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Inc.
Landscape Architect: Reed Hildebrand, Inc.
Civil Engineers: Vanesse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.
Acoustic Consultant: Acentech, Inc.

Construction (as listed):

General Contractor, Kresge Auditorium and MIT Chapel: Lee Kennedy Company, Inc.

Glazing Contractor, Kresge Auditorium: Salem Glass Company

Curtainwall Engineering and Fabrication, Kresge Auditorium: Bellwether Design Technologies

Glazing Contractor, MIT Chapel: Karas & Karas Glass Company, Inc.

Stained Glass Restoration, MIT Chapel: Lynn Hovey Stained Glass Studio

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For a more detailed discussion of a similar process to evaluate and select a performance-enhancing replacement glazing system for an historic modernist curtainwall or window wall system, see:

Fixler, David, and Davis, Aaron. “Louis Kahn’s Stainless Steel Glazing System; Performance Upgrades in the Richards Building.” Proceedings of the Façade Tectonics Institute World Congress, 2016.