Campus & Community

Hidden spaces: The Class of 1959 Chapel at HBS

3 min read

Where introverted sanctuary and extroverted garden merge

“The laws of nature create the art,” said Moshe Safdie, architect of The Class of 1959 Chapel at Harvard Business School. In the sanctuary of the chapel, color arrives only on sunny days, when rainbows refracted through huge ceiling-mounted prisms play on otherwise monochrome cement walls.

While nondenominational, the first cove of the sanctuary is aligned due east. The altar is box-shaped, and simple Shaker chairs dot the scallop-edged circular space.

But to arrive at this peaceful place of introspection, one must first pass through the lively garden that shares the chapel interior. Bursting with life and richness, the garden boasts floor-to-ceiling pyramidal windows that allow for light even on the dreariest of days.

Except for the soft sound of water flowing in the garden, both are very quiet spaces. Manager of Executive Education Building Services Agni Thurner said students come “to read books, pray, or do meditation. I’ve never seen anyone come with a computer.”

Former Harvard Business School Dean John H. McArthur and his HBS Class of 1959 committed their 25th and 30th reunion fund-raising campaigns to building the chapel, which was completed in 1992.
Built for the community, the chapel was intended to “recognize the wholeness of its members’ lives — people who may be grieving for a parent, or worried about their children, or in need of withdrawal from the pressure of work or study, or who wish to celebrate their religious traditions,” chapel planners told Harvard Magazine in 1993.
The building is comprised of two very distinct sides: a solemn, simple chapel and a lively, lush garden.
Just after the chapel’s completion, Agni Thurner was asked to be caretaker. Now the Manager of Executive Education Building Services, Thurner can name nearly all of the plants, as they grew during her childhood in Cyprus, Greece. These days, the garden is rife with citrus fruits: tangerines, oranges, lemons (like the ones she is juggling), as well as native plants from the Americas.
Bird’s nest ferns, arboricola, liriope, and more bloom in the sunlit space.
“I was thrilled to be given the chapel as one of my accounts. It couldn’t have been better. It is peaceful and sunny. I see the reward. I’m really proud of my work,” said Liz Gallinaro (right), a technician with Four Seasons Greenery.
Ferns thrive in the humid chapel.
The garden is multitiered.
Delicate buds live in the pond.
The soft sound of flowing water is constant.
Twenty-seven-foot-high rounded concrete walls encase the sanctuary, which is used for nondenominational services, ceremonies, and concerts.
Skylights inside the sanctuary hold large-scale prisms, which refract the sunlight.
“Every time you come here the rainbows are somewhere different,” says Thurner.
Thoughtfully made Shaker furniture, with functional form and proportion and without ornamentation, works well in the simple sanctuary.
The woven seat of a Shaker chair.
Inscribed in the wall at the entrance is the committee members’ vision for the quiet space.