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Eero Saarinen ( ) (August 20, 1910 – September 1, 1961) 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 Hvitträskmarker, 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 Artmarker in Bloomfield Hillsmarker, Michiganmarker, where his father taught. Saarinen studied under his father at the Cranbrook Academy of Artmarker and took courses in sculpture and furniture design. He had a close relationship with fellow students Charles and Ray Eames, and became good friends with Florence Knoll. Beginning in September 1929, he studied sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, France. He then went on to study at the Yale School of Architecturemarker, 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. The "Tulip Chair" became the basis of the seating used on the original Star Trek television series. The "Tulip Chair," like all other Saarinen chairs, was taken into production by the Knoll furniture company, founded by Hans Knoll, who married Saarinen family friend Florence 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 Memorialmarker, St. Louismarker, not completed until the 1960s. The competition award was mistakenly sent to his father. He designed furniture with organic architecture.

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 Centermarker in Warrenmarker, Michiganmarker, designed in the rationalist Miesian style: in steel and glass, but with the added accent of panels in two shades of blue. The GM technical center was constructed in 1956, with Saarinen using models. These models allowed him to share his ideas with others, and gather input from other professionals. 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 Vassarmarker, as well as an ice rink, Morse Collegemarker, and Ezra Stiles College at Yale Universitymarker. 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 Housemarker 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, Michiganmarker until 1961 when the practice was moved to Hamden, Connecticutmarker. Under Eero Saarinen, the firm carried out many of its most important works, including the Jefferson National Expansion Memorialmarker (Gateway Arch) in St. Louis, Missourimarker, the TWA Flight Centermarker at John F. Kennedy International Airportmarker, and the main terminal of Dulles International Airportmarker near Washington, D.C.marker. 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 Auditoriummarker (MIT), which was designed by Saarinen. Another thin-shell structure that he created is the Ingalls Rinkmarker (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 Architectsmarker 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.

Eero showed his capability to communicate with other professionals during the construction of the GM Technical Center. Since the design of this structure incorporated safety, HVAC, electrical, and mechanical engineering disciplines, Eero was forced to communicate with these professionals.

A list of works


  1. Eero Saarinen and Eliel Saarinen, Museum of Finnish Architecture (Finnish)
  2. Eero Saarinen, Museum of Finnish Architecture (Finnish)
  3. Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen and Donald Albrecht (eds), Eero Saarinen. Shaping the Future (2006)

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.
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 Architecturemarker 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

National Building Museum

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