Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with ten quick facts. You can keep up with #ModernistMondays on the TTC Blog, or on our Instagram page! This month: if you are familiar with the “organic chair” or the Gateway Arch, get to know their creator, Finnish modernist Eero Saarinen.
Eero Saarinen 1910-1961
Saarinen was the son of Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen who had designed the Helsinki central railway station, among other notable Art Nouveau projects, and his mother, Loja Saarinen, was a sculptor. When he was young, he had his father’s draftspeople sketch horses for him, and as a professional architect, he asked potential employees to draw horses in their interviews.
After moving to the US for his father’s architectural career, Eero attended Yale School of Architecture from 1932 to 1934, and began his postgraduate work back in Finland working for the architect Jarl Eklund. After moving back to the States, he joined his father’s firm, taught at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, and became a citizen.
When he and fellow designer Charles Eames won a competition to be featured in an exhibition at MoMA, Organic Design in Home Furnishings, Saarinen became a household name in furniture design. After winning, their work was shown at the museum and manufactured for department stores around the country. Their “Organic Chair” is one of the most recognizable pieces of modern furniture in history.
Two years after the MoMA exhibition, Saarinen was recruited to join the OSS (what is now the CIA) designing intelligence buildings and weapons.
After his time at the OSS, Eero and his father independently submitted designs for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. When the family home received a call that “Mr. Saarinen” had won, they assumed it was Eliel. They were both surprised and impressed when they realized that Eero had surpassed his father, and won the competition. The winning design is now the Gateway Arch, the tallest memorial in the United States.
Eero designed the General Motors Technical Center in Michigan, where his use of a curtain wall (metal panels and glass set in aluminum frames) became a popular modernist design technique.
The Design Dome at the GM Center became an iconic visual for car development and sales. Today, every GM product line has been presented to the company’s leadership in this renowned space.
After his father’s death, Saarinen founded his own firm, Eero Saarinen and Associates. While some of the firm’s projects were relatively linear in style, Saarinen’s work on the Yale Ingalls Hockey Rink and the TWA Terminal is more sculptural, lyrical and idiosyncratic. For the terminal, he was inspired by aerodynamics and the idea of creating movement in architecture.
In 1957, Saarinen completed a home in Indiana for a philanthropist and his wife, the Miller House, known for its sunken living room.
His only skyscraper project is in New York: the CBS Building on West 52nd Street and Sixth Avenue, which was completed after his death in 1964 at age 51.
SOURCES: “Eero Saarinen,” Britannica, “Eero Saarinen,” Arch Daily, “Eero Saarinen,” Wikipedia, “Eero Saarinen,” USModernist.org