On the northeast side of IIT Main Campus, blocks away from the ornate red brick and arched façade of Machinery Hall, is a more modest, single-story building—the Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel of Saint Savior. Unassuming as it may appear, the structure is significant for two primary reasons.
“Ludwig Mies van der Rohe scholars and architectural historians understand that Carr Chapel is Mies’ only ecclesiastical building and therefore of extreme interest because of his treatment of the religious nature of the building,” explains Ted Haffner, chair of the Mies van der Rohe Society. “Historian Kevin Harrington has related it to a Greek temple, while the building is known to IIT students on campus as the ‘God Box.’ Carr Chapel’s simple, direct style of architecture makes it endlessly approachable yet decidedly spiritual.”
According to the Mies Society website, the idea for Carr Chapel was proposed in the late 1940s by then Bishop Wallace E. Conkling of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. The gap between science and religion seemed wider than ever in the years following World War II; Conkling thought that a chapel within the technology-oriented environment of IIT could be the “great educational project of the atomic age.” University administrators, however, mandated that the chapel be open to students of all religious and spiritual beliefs.
“The importance of the building also lies in its connection to the student body,” Haffner notes. “The universal nature of the building makes it equally appealing to students of all faiths as well as student organizations and other groups. To my knowledge, it is one of the most difficult spaces on campus for which to schedule an event due to its popularity.”
The Mies Society raised $1 million for a Carr Chapel restoration project that began in 2008 and included improvements to the roof, the terrazzo floor, and the exterior blonde brickwork. A renovation to make an ADA-compliant restroom will be completed in spring 2015. Many of the project’s donors came back to Carr this year on October 1 for a re-dedication of the chapel hosted by the Mies Society.
“This isn’t a side of IIT’s story that most people typically think about nor is it the type of story generally told about Mies,” says Lynne Meyer, director of IIT’s Office of Spiritual Life and Service Learning. “But it’s an important story, especially as we as a campus are doing more interfaith work and gaining national attention for it.” Meyer, who served as an invited panelist at the Fourth Annual President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge National Gathering held September 22–23 in Washington, D.C., hopes to continue the story of Carr Chapel as IIT prepares for its 125th anniversary. To do that Meyer says she needs the assistance of individuals who know the chapel intimately.
“We are relying on our alumni to tell their stories of Carr Chapel,” says Meyer, who officiated at a chapel wedding a few years ago. “Their recollections and photos of weddings, baptisms, and other events will help us further understand the changing social, religious, and cultural landscape of IIT, the U.S., and the world from the perspective of our simple chapel.”
Please contact Lynne Meyer at alumni.iit.edu/carr-memories to share your recollections of Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel. IIT Magazine will feature stories and photos in its 2015 issues.