Here Mies Society Director Justine Jentes answers the three most frequently asked questions about the restoration of Mies’ only realized spiritual space, Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel of St. Savior.
What impact have recent renovations had on the interior space?
Thorough tuckpointing of the brick walls combined with earlier work on the roof should put a stop to leaks in the walls and discoloration of the interior brick walls. In addition, careful cleaning has revealed the beauty of the wood panels and benches on either side of the altar.
What is the most dramatic change so far, and how was it achieved?
The most significant difference is the amount of natural light that now enters the space through the glass on the west side. We removed the organ and surrounding structure that was not original to the space and had blocked considerable light from shining onto the north and south walls. In addition, the newly cleaned concrete ceiling panels also help to lighten the space.
What are your thoughts on why people are compelled to fund the Chapel’s restoration?
Donors are engaged by this project because they want to help provide a welcoming spiritual center for the IIT community and because they are intrigued by Mies’ only religious building. IIT and the Episcopal Diocese built this Chapel to unify the realms of science and spirit. Restoration of the Chapel is a commitment not only to preservation of an architectural gem, but to the nurturing of students, faculty and staff as whole persons. While the Chapel may have been built to flexibly welcome Protestants, Catholics and Jews, IIT’s community has grown to include a sizable Muslim and Hindu population, as well as Buddhist, pagan, secular humanist, Baha’I, Sikh, and others. The Chapel is active as a spiritual center every day of every week. The Chapel’s architecture must suggest spirituality to those of all faiths; while Carr Memorial Chapel does not have a traditional religious form, it uses simple structure, flexible interior, and the transparency of glass to welcome, inspire and integrate with the rest of the campus. Mies created the Chapel with the same simple materials he used in the rest of the IIT campus: brick, steel, glass, oak panels, travertine marble, and terrazzo floor. It is in keeping with the “skin and bones” style for which he is known, where Mies tries to pare down the structure to its most beautiful, bare essentials.
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