Friday, April 8, 2011

Designer of the Month: Eero Saarinen

In my mind, architect and industrial designer Eero Saarinen (1910-1961), April's Designer of the Month, is one of the great names of 20th-century, postwar American design. Born in Finland to an equally famous architect father, Eliel, and sculptor, weaver, photographer, and architectural model maker, Loja, Saarinen came to the U.S. in 1923 when Eliel became president overseer of architecture and landscape development at the school he would help found, the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.[1] After finishing his studies at the Yale School of Architecture and completing a fellowship in Europe, Saarinen returned to Cranbrook in 1936 to become an instructor of design, joining his father as a partner at Eliel's architectural firm, where he began to build his reputation.[2]

Eero Saarinen. Courtesy of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

Saarinen came to prominence as an architect in the 1950s, leading the way for a new wave of modernism in America.[3] As he explained of architecture at the time, in a talk given at the Museum of Modern Art on March 11, 1952:
We are in one of the great formative periods right now. It began about 1900 and it may last for the rest of the century. The ground rules and the general direction have been set, but there is still much to be done before the form of our time really emerges. During such a period we have to remain alert and flexible. New structural materials, new uses, a new spirit of our age. Yes, we are facing new frontiers. This is not a period of refinement.[4]
Saarinen was instrumental in changing the face of American modernist architecture and design, and it would be crazy for me to think that I could spend the next three weeks doing anything more than just touching on some of his many works. While I'm going to stick to chronology, I've chosen 6 of Saarinen's most iconic and interesting designs, all of them very different examples of the types of work he created, to look at over the next three weeks: furniture and the General Motors Technical Center in week 2, the Saint Louis Gateway Arch and MIT Auditorium and Chapel in week 3, and the Miller House in Indiana and TWA Terminal in week 4.

[1] Cranbrook Academy of Art online, "About Us: History," (accessed April 6, 2011).

[2] Michael A. Capps, "Eero Saarinen - Architect With a Vision," from Jefferson National Expansion Memorial online, (accessed April 6, 2011).

[3] David G. De Long, "Introduction: Rediscovering Eero Saarinen," in Eero Saarinen: Buildings from the Balthazar Korab Archives, ed. David G. De Long and C. Ford Peatross, (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 2008), 8.

[4] Eero Saarinen, "Architects and Architecture," in Eero Saarinen On His Work, ed. Aline B. Saarinen, (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1962), 5.

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