Eero Saarinen shaping America
Born in Kirkkonummi, Finland, in 1910, Eero Saarinen arrived in America with his family in 1923., The passage was paid by prize money awarded to his father, respected architect Eliel Saarinen, who’d almost won a design competition run by the Chicago Tribune Tower. He actually came second; regardless, the $20,000 prize was significant and a life changer. The family made a home in Ann Arbour in the heart of Michigan’s art community.
Eliel accepted an academic post at the University of Michigan. Within a few years, the family had moved to Bloomfield Hills, an affluent suburb of Detroit encouraged by George and Ellen Booth whose vision was to create the Cranbrook Art School in the city, with Eliel its first resident architect and Dean of its Academy of Art and his wife Loja, head of the Weaving Department and Director of Studio Loja Saarinen.
From early on, Eero showed he had enormous potential and designed for the family home. Today, the house is open to the public., now a historical landmark, some original furniture he made for his parent’s bedroom is still on display. Cranbrook was formative for Eero; The mileau in which he grew up enabled him to form relationships with the likes of Florence Knoll and Ray and Charles Eames, who all figured later in his life personally and professionally.
‘The purpose of architecture is to shelter and enhance man’s life on earth and to fulfill his belief in the nobility of his existence’
Eero’s education was always going to be more European in flavour; in Paris, he studied sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, he later explained,
‘except for a brief excursion into sculpture, it never occurred to me to do anything but follow my father’s footsteps’.
He returned to America to study Fine Arts and Architecture at Yale and then travelled for several years around Europe and North Africa, returning to America in 1936.
Eliel meanwhile headed Saarinen, Swanson and Associates in Bloomfield. Father and son worked together and separately and sometimes entered the same competition separately, which was, as you can imagine, confusing. Team Saarinen won the 1939 competition to design the Smithsonian Gallery of Art.
Those early friendships later formed design collaborations; the perfect example of how everything dovetailed together is the design of the Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen for Hans and Florence Knoll’s furniture company.
Until his father’s death in 1950, Eero worked in the same practice as his father; it was only when Eliel had passed away that Eero created his own practice, Eero Saarinen and Associates. He went on to design some of the most iconic buildings in post-war America, aided by Kevin Roche, who had come through the ranks to become his Design Director.
Prolific, he designed everything from the American Embassy in London to the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport, the chapel at MIT, the master plan for Brandeis University, General Motors Technical Center, the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, the US Embassy in London, the Bell (telephone) labs complex, the St Louis’ Gateway Arch, Washington Dulles International Airport, the Lincoln Center in New York and the CBS Building and more.
He was constantly in demand until his untimely and sudden death at 51 from a brain tumour in 1961.
Eero Saarinen 20th August 1910- 1st Septembe3 1961 (Eliel was also born on 20th August)
Image TWA Airport Image Jag9889 CC BY SA 4.0