Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen

[sahr-uh-nuhn, sar-; Finn. sah-ri-nen]
Saarinen, Eero, 1910-61, Finnish-American architect, grad. Yale (B.A., 1934), became an American citizen in 1940; son of Eliel Saarinen. Saarinen's reputation was established with his design of the General Motors Technical Center, Warren, Mich. (1951-55). His architectural innovations are significant, particularly in domical construction. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he built (1955) the circular brick chapel as well as the auditorium, notable for its thin-shelled concrete dome. He followed the principles of suspension-bridge construction in the David S. Ingalls Hockey Rink at Yale (1958). Saarinen created soaring intersecting concrete vaults for the building many consider his masterpiece, the Trans World Airlines Terminal at Kennedy International Airport, New York City (completed 1962). His most famous commission, however, is probably the Gateway Arch (designed 1948, completed 1964) at St. Louis, a monumental 630-ft-high (192-m) curve of stainless steel. His sole skyscraper is the CBS building (1960-64), New York City, a reinforced concrete tower with an elegant skin of glass and dark granite. He also created many collegiate buildings, including those at Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne, Ind.; Vassar; and the Univ. of Chicago; and designed the American embassies at Oslo (1959) and London (1960). Saarinen died before the completion of two of his greatest projects, Dulles International Airport (1962) near Herndon, Va., and two polygonal college buildings at Yale.

See Eero Saarinen On His Work, ed. by A. Saarinen (rev. ed. 1968); E. Stoller, The TWA Terminal (1999); studies by B. Carter (2003), A Román (2003), and J. Merkel (2005).

Eero Saarinen (August 20, 1910 Kirkkonummi, Finland – September 1, 1961 Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States) was a Finnish American architect and product designer of the 20th century famous for varying his style according to the demands of the project : simple, sweeping, arching structural curves or machine-like rationalism.


Eero Saarinen, who was born in Hvitträsk, coincidentally shared the same birthday as his father, Eliel Saarinen . Saarinen emigrated to the United States of America in 1923 when he was thirteen years old . He grew up within the community of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where his father taught. Saarinen studied under his father and took courses in sculpture and furniture design. Saarinen had a close relationship with fellow students Charles and Ray Eames, and became good friends with Florence (Schust) Knoll. Beginning in September 1929, he studied sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, France. He then went on to study architecture at Yale University, completing his studies in 1934. After that, he toured Europe and North Africa for a year and spent another year back in Finland, after which he returned to Cranbrook to work for his father and teach at the academy. He became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1940. Saarinen was recruited by his friend, who was also an architect, to join the military service in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Saarinen was assigned to draw illustrations for bomb disassembly manuals and to provide designs for the Situation Room in the White House . Saarinen worked full time for the OSS until 1944. After his father's death in 1950, Saarinen founded his own architect's office, "Eero Saarinen and Associates". He had two children from his first marriage, Eric and Susan.

In 1954, after having divorced his first wife, Saarinen married Aline Bernstein, an art critic at The New York Times. They had a son, Eames, named after his collaborator Charles Eames.


Saarinen first received critical recognition, while still working for his father, for a chair designed together with Charles Eames for the "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition in 1940, for which they received first prize. This chair, like all other Saarinen chairs was taken into production by the Knoll furniture company, founded by the Saarinen family friend Florence (Schust) Knoll together with her husband Hans Knoll. Further attention came also while Saarinen was still working for his father, when he took first prize in the 1948 competition for the design of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis, not completed until the 1960s. The competition award was mistakenly sent to his father.

During his long association with Knoll he designed many important pieces of furniture including the "Grasshopper" lounge chair and ottoman (1946), the "Womb" chair and ottoman (1948), the "Womb" settee (1950), side and arm chairs (1948-1950), and his most famous "Tulip" or "Pedestal" group (1956), which featured side and arm chairs, dining, coffee and side tables, as well as a stool. All of these designs were highly successful except for the "Grasshopper" lounge chair, which, although in production through 1965, was not a big seller. His Womb chair and ottoman, as well as his "Tulip" collection, have remained in production and are considered iconic.


The first major work by Saarinen, started together with his father, was the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, designed in the rationalist Miesian style: in steel and glass, but with the added accent of panels in two shades of blue. With the success of the scheme, Saarinen was then invited by other major American corporations to design their new headquarters: these included John Deere, IBM, and CBS. Despite their rationality, however, the interiors usually contained more dramatic sweeping staircases, as well as furniture designed by Saarinen, such as the Pedestal Series. In the 1950s he began to receive more commissions from American universities for campus designs and individual buildings; these include the Noyes dormitory at Vassar, as well as an ice rink, Morse College, and Ezra Stiles College at Yale University. Both the Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges at Yale have received criticism from students for failing to fulfill basic dormitory needs.

He served on the jury for the Sydney Opera House commission and was crucial in the selection of the internationally-known design by Jørn Utzon.

"Eero Saarinen and Associates" was the architectural firm of Eero Saarinen, who was the principal partner from 1950 until his death in 1961. The firm was initially known as "Saarinen, Swansen and Associates", headed by Eliel Saarinen and Robert Swansen from the late 1930s until Eliel's death in 1950. The firm was located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan until 1961 when the practice was moved to Hamden, Connecticut. Under Eero Saarinen, the firm carried out many of its most important works, including the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Gateway Arch) in St. Louis, Missouri, the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and the main terminal of Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.. Many of these projects use catenary curves in their structural designs. One of the best-known thin-shell concrete structures in America is the Kresge Auditorium (MIT), which was designed by Saarinen. Another thin-shell structure that he created is the Ingalls Rink (Yale University), which has suspension cables connected to a single concrete backbone and is nicknamed "the whale." Undoubtedly his most famous work is the TWA Flight Center, which represents the culmination of his previous designs and demonstrates his expressionism and the technical marvel in concrete shells.

Saarinen died, while undergoing an operation for a brain tumor, at the age of 51. His partners, Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, completed his ten remaining projects, including the St. Louis arch. Afterwards, the name of the firm was changed to "Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo, and Associates", or Roche-Dinkeloo.


Eero Saarinen was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1952. He is also a winner of the AIA Gold Medal.

Saarinen is now considered one of the masters of American 20th Century architecture. There has been a veritable surge of interest in Saarinen's work in recent years, including a major exhibition and several books. This is partly due to the Roche and Dinkeloo office having donated their Saarinen archives to Yale University, but also because Saarinen's oeuvre can be said to fit in with present-day concerns about pluralism of styles. He was criticized in his own time — most vociferously by critic Vincent Scully — for having no identifiable style (Miesian rationalism for the several company headquarters; organic or abstract expressionism for several individual structures such as the TWA Flight Center, as well as his furniture designs; but also classicising eclecticism, for instance in the USA embassy in London): one explanation for this is that Saarinen adapted his modernist vision to each individual client and project, which were never exactly the same.

A list of works


References and further reading

  • A&E with Richard Guy Wilson, Ph.D.,(2000). America's Castles: Newspaper Moguls, Pittock Mansion, Cranbrook House & Gardens, The American Swedish Institute. A&E Television Network.
  • Roman, Antonio (2003). Eero Saarinen. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
  • Serraino, Pierluigi (2006). Saarinen, 1910-1961: a Structural Expressionist. KöLn: Taschen.
  • Merkel, Jayne (2005). Eero Saarinen. London: Phaidon Press.
  • Pelkonen, Eeva-Liisa (2006). Eero Saarinen. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Saarinen, Aline B. (ed) (1968). Eero Saarinen on His Work. New Haven: Yale University Press.

An exhibition of Saarinen's work, Eero Saarinen: Realizing American Utopia, has been organized by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York in collaboration with Yale School of Architecture and the Museum of Finnish Architecture. The exhibition will tour in Europe and the USA from 2006 to 2010. The exhibition is accompanied by the book Eero Saarinen. Shaping the Future.

See also

External links

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