A Saarinen classic for today's midMOD monday.
Recently, I came across another set of Balthazar Korab photographs, this time of Eero Saarinen’s Kresge Auditorium, and I just couldn’t resist sharing them. In true Korab style, the photographs vividly capture the moodiness and rebellion of Saarinen's design for the MIT landmark, all cunning geometry and outward thrust. There’s just something about Korab’s eye and Saarinen’s forms that capture the optimistic dynamism of the period. Simply put, these images are masterful. So go ahead and see for yourself.
Eero Saarinen Architect, Balthazar Korab, photographer. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kresge Auditorium and Chapel, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1950-55. Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The Kresge Auditorium is just one of those buildings that embodies everything about postwar architecture in America. Daring in form, democratic in function, and fully committed to technological innovation, the exuberant design stands as a feat of engineering, a clear and aggressive step toward the future. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) commissioned Eero Saarinen to design the auditorium as part of a larger plan for a new social and cultural center on campus. Opened in 1955, the transparent, outward reaching auditorium stands just across a grassy lawn from another Saarinen design, the MIT Chapel, a diametrically opposed windowless brick cylinder. Both buildings, striking in their contrast and elegant in their geometric spirit, were radical departures from the classical collegiate landscape, and today, remain emblematic of the institution's adventurous approach to architecture.
Kresge Auditorium is one-eighth of a sphere, arranged triangularly upon a red brick podium. By original design, the reinforced concrete dome is primarily supported at just three points (approximately 160 feet apart), culminating in dramatic arc-shaped spaces enclosed by glass curtain walls. One of the first large scale concrete-shell domes in the United States, Kresge Auditorium faced a number of challenges during construction, ultimately resulting in the need for additional supports and replacement roofing in the decades following its completion. In spite of these issues, the form's influence on Saarinen's later work, most notably the TWA terminal and Dulles International Airport, remains undeniable.
After its construction, Kresge Auditorium received mixed reviews from the MIT community, architectural critics, and the interested public. While most of the architecture world greeted the building with enthusiasm, detractors cited Saarinen’s failure to address existing context, structural issues, and austere materials as proof of an inappropriate design. Over time though (and despite its structural shortcomings), the building has become an iconic piece of American Modernism, a beloved MIT landmark, and one of Saarinen’s most recognizable and admired designs.
Now go back and take another look at those photographs. Happy Monday.
All photos are part of the Balthazar Korab Collection available at the Library of Congress.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.