Eero Saarinen
Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen (1910 – 1961) Finnish architect. He was born in Kirkkonummi. He was professionally active in the USA. The son of Eliel and Loja Saarinen.

Education

1930, he studied fine art, Paris, and architecture, Yale University, to 1934.

Biography

He moved with his father to New York in 1923. Intending to become a sculptor, he designed furniture in 1929 in a joint project with his father and mother for the Kingswood School for girls. 

After 1934, he worked with Norman Bel Geddes on furniture design.

In 1936, he returned to his father’s Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he taught briefly and, in 1937-41, practised architecture with his father in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 1941-47, he was a partner to his father and J. Robert Swanson, Ann Arbor. 

1950 saw him busy with his own office in Ann Arbor.

Association with Knoll

Eero developed the 1946 Grass-hopper upholstered lounge chair, the 1948 fibreglass-shell Womb Chair, and a range of office furniture for the furniture company of Hans and Florence Knoll, beginning his association in 1946. The Womb Chair became a famous icon of mid-century design. According to his account, Saarinen created it as a modern, overstuffed club-chair model. It was a direct descendant of the New York Museum of Art prize-winning chair design of 1940.

Eero Saarinen Womb Chair 1946
Eero Saarinen Womb Chair 1946

Gateway Arch

When he won the competition to design the Jefferson Westward Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, Saarinen became a well-established architect. Later known as the Gateway Arch, it drew directly on the Italian architect Adalberto Libera (with Di Berardino) for the unrealised entrance to the 1942 ‘Esposizione Universale di Roma.’

Gateway Arch, in St Louis, Missouri designed by Eero Saarinen
Gateway Arch, in St Louis, Missouri designed by Eero Saarinen

Furniture

Saarinen rendered office chairs (produced by Knoll) for the 1948-56 General Motors Technical Center on the artificial lake in Warren, Michigan, a project on which he was the principal architect. 

Eero Saarinen Womb Chair
Eero Saarinen Womb Chair
Eero Saarinen for Knoll Walnut Tulip Dining Table
Eero Saarinen for Knoll Walnut Tulip Dining Table

His 1955-57 pedestal furniture range (produced by Knoll), including the 1957 Tulip chair with its fibreglass seat and aluminium pedestal, pursued his ‘one-piece, one material’ furniture design ideal. Their silhouettes were an attempt to rid a room of a forest of furniture legs. He strove to be a designer of sculptural furniture, rejecting the rectilinear forms of the 1920s.

Architectural achievements

His architectural achievements were dramatic, combining architecture, design and engineering.

A lifelong friend of Charles Eames, Saarinen, and he designed innovative seating furniture in the Mary Seaton Room of the Streamline-Modern 1940 Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York, Saarinen his father were the architects.  

Terminal TWA JFK Airport designed by Eero Saarinen
Terminal TWA JFK Airport designed by Eero Saarinen

In the 1940s, Saarinen worked with Eames in California on various projects, including a sculptural plywood leg splint for the US Navy. Cesar Pelli, Kevin Roche, and John Dinkeloo all began their careers in Saarinen’s architecture office. 

Recognition

His work was shown with his father and mother at the Detroit Institute of Arts’ 1932 exhibition of their designs. Eames and Saarinen won the first two prizes at the 1940 Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition and exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

His Tulip chair was included in the 1968 ‘Les Assises du siège contemporian’ exhibition at the Paris Musée des Arts Decoratifs, 1972 ‘Knoll au Louvre’ exhibition (along with other designs) at the Paris Musée des Arts Decoratifs, and 1970 ‘Modern Chairs 1918-1970’ exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. 

Work included in 1982 ‘Space and Environment: Furniture by American Architects’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and 1983-85 ‘Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision 1925-1950’ travelling exhibition. His Womb Chair and Tulip Chair were included in the 1983-84 ‘Design Since 1945’ exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He won the 1962 gold medal of the American Institute of Architects posthumously and the 1966 American Institute of Architects Honors Award. 

Buildings

His buildings included; 

  • the 1939 Smithsonian Art Gallery, Washington; 
  • 1948-56 General Motors Technical Center (with Eliel Saarinen and architecture firm Smith, Hinchman and Gryllis) in Warren, Michigan; 
  • 1953-55 Kresge Auditorium and Chapel at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts; 
  • 1956 US Embassy, London; 
  • 1956-58 David S. Ingalls Ice Hockey Rink at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; 
  • 1962 Trans World Airlines Terminal at Idlewild (now John F. Kennedy) airport, New York; 
  • 1958-63 Dulles International Airport, Virginia; 
  • 1956-63 John Deere administration centre, Moline, Illinois; 
  • 1964 National Expansion Memorial (Centennial Gateway Arch), St. Louis, Missouri

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

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