Eero Saarinen

Last updated
Eero Saarinen
Born(1910-08-20)August 20, 1910
DiedSeptember 1, 1961(1961-09-01) (aged 51)
Nationality Finnish
American (Since 1940)
Alma mater Yale School of Architecture
Awards AIA Gold Medal (1962)
PracticeAssociated architectural firm[s]
BuildingsSee list of works
Design Gateway Arch
General Motors Technical Center
Washington Dulles International Airport
TWA Flight Center
Tulip chair
Children3, including Eric Saarinen
Parent(s) Eliel Saarinen
Loja Gesellius
Relatives Pipsan Saarinen Swanson (sister)

Eero Saarinen ( /ˈrˈsɑːrɪnən,ˈɛər-/ , Finnish:  [ˈeːro ˈsɑːrinen] ; August 20, 1910 – September 1, 1961) was a Finnish-American architect and industrial designer noted for his wide-ranging array of designs for buildings and monuments. Saarinen is best known for designing the Washington Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., the TWA Flight Center in New York City, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. He was the son of noted Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.


Early life and education

Eero Saarinen was born in Hvitträsk on August 20, 1910, to Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and his second wife, Louise, on his father's 37th birthday. [1] [2] They immigrated to the United States in 1923, when Eero was thirteen. [1] [2] He grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where his father taught and was dean of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and he took courses in sculpture and furniture design there. [3] He had a close relationship with fellow students Charles and Ray Eames, and became good friends with Florence Knoll (née Schust). [4]

Saarinen began studies in sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, France, in September 1929. [4] He then went on to study at the Yale School of Architecture, completing his studies in 1934. [5] [1] Subsequently, he toured Europe for two years and returned to the United States in 1936 to work in his father's architectural practice. [5]

Architectural career

Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri St Louis night expblend cropped.jpg
Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri

After his tour of Europe and North Africa, Saarinen returned to Cranbrook to work for his father and teach at the academy. His father's firm was 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, Michigan, until 1961 when the practice was moved to Hamden, Connecticut.

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, like all other Saarinen chairs, was taken into production by the Knoll furniture company, founded by Hans Knoll, who married Saarinen family friend Florence (Schust) 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 Gateway Arch National Park (then known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial) in St. Louis. The memorial wasn't completed until the 1960s. The competition award was mistakenly sent to his father because both he and his father had entered the competition separately. When the committee sent out the letter stating Saarinen had won the competition, it was mistakenly addressed to his father.

Washington Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. Dulles Airport Terminal.jpg
Washington Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.
Kleinhans Music Hall in Symphony Circle, Buffalo, New York Kleinhans Music Hall.jpg
Kleinhans Music Hall in Symphony Circle, Buffalo, New York

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), [6] 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 success.

TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport Jfkairport.jpg
TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport

One of Saarinen's earliest works to receive international acclaim is the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois (1940). The first major work by Saarinen, in collaboration with his father, was the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, which follows the rationalist design Miesian style, incorporating steel and glass but with the addition of accent of panels in two shades of blue. The GM Technical Center was constructed in 1956, with Saarinen using models, which allowed him to share his ideas with others and gather input from other professionals. [7]

With the success of this project, Saarinen was then invited by other major American corporations such as John Deere, IBM, and CBS to design their new headquarters or other major corporate buildings. Despite the overall rational design philosophy, the interiors usually contained dramatic sweeping staircases as well as furniture designed by Saarinen, such as the Pedestal series. [8] In the 1950s he began to receive more commissions from American universities for campus designs and individual buildings. These include the Noyes dormitory at Vassar and Hill College House at the University of Pennsylvania as well as the Ingalls ice rink, Ezra Stiles & Morse Colleges at Yale University, the MIT Chapel and neighboring Kresge Auditorium at MIT and the University of Chicago Law School building and grounds.

Saarinen served on the jury for the Sydney Opera House commission in 1957 and was crucial in the selection of the now internationally known design by Jørn Utzon. [9] A jury which did not include Saarinen had discarded Utzon's design in the first round; Saarinen reviewed the discarded designs, recognized a quality in Utzon's design, and ultimately assured the commission of Utzon. [9]

After his father's death in July 1950, Saarinen founded his own architect's office, Eero Saarinen and Associates. He was the principal partner from 1950 until his death. The firm carried out many of its most important works, including the Bell Labs Holmdel Complex in Holmdel Township, New Jersey; Gateway Arch National Park (including the Gateway Arch) in St. Louis, Missouri; the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana; the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, which he worked on with Charles J. Parise; the main terminal of Washington Dulles International Airport; and the new East Air Terminal of the old Athens airport in Greece, which opened in 1967. Many of these projects use catenary curves in their structural designs.

In 1949–50, Saarinen was hired by the then-new Brandeis University to create a master plan for the campus. [10] Saarinen's plan A Foundation for Learning: Planning the Campus of Brandeis University (1949; second edition 1951), developed with Matthew Nowicki, called for a central academic complex surrounded by residential quadrangles along a peripheral road. [11] The plan was never built but was useful in attracting donors. [10] Saarinen did build a few residential structures on the campus, including Ridgewood Quadrangle (1950), Sherman Student Center (1952) and Shapiro Dormitory at Hamilton Quadrangle (1952). [11] [10] These have all been either demolished or extensively remodeled.[ citation needed ]

One of his best-known thin-shell concrete structures in America is the Kresge Auditorium at MIT. Another thin-shell structure is Yale's Ingalls Rink, which has suspension cables connected to a single concrete backbone and is nicknamed "the whale". His most famous work is the TWA Flight Center, which represents the culmination of his previous designs and his genius for expressing the ultimate purpose of each building, what he called the "style for the job". [12] [ page needed ] In 2019 the terminal was transformed into the TWA Hotel. [13] [14] [15]

Saarinen designed the Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York, together with his father, Eliel Saarinen. He also designed the Embassy of the United States in London, which opened in 1960, and the Embassy of the United States in Oslo.

Saarinen worked with his father, mother, and sister designing elements of the Cranbrook campus in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, including the Cranbrook School, Kingswood School, the Cranbrook Art Academy, and the Cranbrook Science Institute. Eero Saarinen's leaded-glass designs are a prominent feature of these buildings throughout the campus.

Non-architectural activities

Tulip chair and seat cushion, designed 1956, Brooklyn Museum Saarinen Tulpanstolen.jpg
Tulip chair and seat cushion, designed 1956, Brooklyn Museum
Womb Chair, Model No. 70, designed 1947-1948, Brooklyn Museum Eero Saarinen, Womb Chair, Model No. 70, Designed 1947-1948.jpg
Womb Chair, Model No. 70, designed 1947–1948, Brooklyn Museum

Saarinen was recruited by Donal McLaughlin, an architectural school friend from his Yale days, 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. [16] Saarinen worked full-time for the OSS until 1944. [12] [ page needed ]

Honors and awards

Eero Saarinen was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1952. [17] He was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1954. [18] In 1962, he was posthumously awarded a gold medal by the American Institute of Architects. [19]

In 1940, he received two first prizes together with Charles Eames in the furniture design competition of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 1948, he won the first prize in the Jefferson National Monument competition. The Boston Arts festival in 1953 gave him their Grand Architectural Award. He received the First Honor award of the American Institute of Architects twice, in 1955 and 1956, and their gold medal in 1962. In 1965 he took first prize in US Embassy competition in London. [20]

Personal life

Saarinen became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1940. [21]

In 1939 Saarinen married the sculptor Lilian Swann. They had two children, Eric and Susan Saarinen. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1954. That same year Saarinen married Aline Bernstein Louchheim, an art critic at The New York Times. Saarinen had met Louchheim when she came to Detroit to interview him for his contributions to the recently-completed General Motors Technical Center. [22] Saarinen and Louchheim had one son together who they named Eames after Saarinen's collaborator Charles Eames. [23] [24] In addition to their respective contributions to architecture, design, and criticism, Eero and Aline Saarinen are remembered for their affectionate and detailed personal papers, held at the Archives of American Art.


Saarinen died on September 1, 1961, at the age of 51 while undergoing an operation for a brain tumor. He was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, overseeing the completion of a new music building for the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. [25] He is buried at White Chapel Memorial Cemetery, in Troy, Michigan. [26]


Saarinen is now considered one of the masters of American 20th-century architecture. [12] [ page needed ] There has been a surge of interest in Saarinen's work in recent years,[ when? ] including a major exhibition and several books. This is partly because the Roche and Dinkeloo office has donated its 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 Yale's Vincent Scully—for having no identifiable style; one explanation for this is that Saarinen's vision was adapted to each individual client and project, which were never exactly the same. [12] [ page needed ] Scully also criticized him for designing buildings that were "packages", with "no connection with human use ... at once cruelly inhuman and trivial, as if they had been designed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff". [27]

The papers of Aline and Eero Saarinen, from 1906 to 1977, [28] were donated in 1973 to the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (by Charles Alan, Aline Saarinen's brother and executor of her estate [29] ). In 2006, the bulk of these primary source documents on the couple were digitized and posted online on the Archives' website. [30]

The Eero Saarinen collection at the Canadian Centre for Architecture documents eight built projects, including the old Athens airport in Greece, the former US Embassy Chanceries in Oslo, Norway and London, England, corporate projects for John Deere, CBS, and IBM, and the North Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana. [31]

An exhibition of Saarinen's work, Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, was organized by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York in collaboration with Yale School of Architecture, the National Building Museum, and the Museum of Finnish Architecture. The exhibition toured in Europe and the United States from 2006 to 2010, [32] including a stint at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. [33] The exhibition was accompanied by the book Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future. [34]

In 2016 Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, a film about Saarinen (co-produced by his son Eric), premiered on the PBS American Masters series. [35]

See also

Related Research Articles

Cranbrook Educational Community United States historic place

The Cranbrook Educational Community is an education, research, and public museum complex in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. This National Historic Landmark was founded in the early 20th century by newspaper mogul George Gough Booth. It consists of Cranbrook Schools, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, Cranbrook Institute of Science, and Cranbrook House and Gardens. The founders also built Christ Church Cranbrook as a focal point in order to serve the educational complex. However, the church is a separate entity under the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. The sprawling 319-acre (1,290,000 m2) campus began as a 174-acre (700,000 m2) farm, purchased in 1904. The organization takes its name from Cranbrook, England, the birthplace of the founder's father.

Eliel Saarinen Finnish-American architect (1873-1950)

Gottlieb Eliel Saarinen was a Finnish-American architect known for his work with art nouveau buildings in the early years of the 20th century. He was also the father of famed architect Eero Saarinen.

North Christian Church Eero Saarinen-designed church in Columbus, Indiana

The North Christian Church is a church in Columbus, Indiana. Founded in 1955, it is part of the Christian Church. The church building of 1964 was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen (1910–1961) and completed in 1964. Saarinen's father Eliel Saarinen had designed the First Christian Church in Columbus.

Florence Knoll American architect

Florence Marguerite Knoll Bassett was an American architect, interior designer, furniture designer, and entrepreneur who has been credited with revolutionizing office design and bringing modernist design to office interiors. Knoll and her husband, Hans Knoll, built Knoll Associates into a leader in the fields of furniture and interior design. She worked to professionalize the field of interior design, fighting against gendered stereotypes of the decorator. She is known for her open office designs, populated with modernist furniture and organized rationally for the needs of office workers. Her modernist aesthetic was known for clean lines and clear geometries that were humanized with textures, organic shapes, and colour.

Harry Weese American modernist architect

Harry Mohr Weese was an American architect who had an important role in 20th century modernism and historic preservation. His brother, Ben Weese, is also a renowned architect.

Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

The A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan offers the following degrees: Bachelor of Science in Architecture, Master of Architecture, Master of Science in Architecture, Master of Urban Planning, Master of Urban Design, and PhD programs.

TWA Flight Center Terminal at JFK Airport in New York City

The TWA Flight Center, also known as the Trans World Flight Center, is an airport terminal and hotel complex at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The original terminal building, or head house, operated as a terminal from 1962 to 2001 and was adaptively repurposed in 2017 as part of the TWA Hotel. The head house is partially encircled by a replacement terminal building completed in 2008, as well as by the hotel buildings. The head house and replacement terminal collectively make up JetBlue's JFK operations and are known as Terminal 5 or T5.

Knoll (company) American design firm that produces office systems

Knoll, Inc. is an American design firm that produces office systems, seating, files and storage, tables and desks, textiles (KnollTextiles), and accessories for the office, home, and higher education settings. The company manufactures furniture for the home by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Harry Bertoia, Florence Knoll, Frank Gehry, Charles Gwathmey, Maya Lin and Eero Saarinen under the company's KnollStudio division. Over 40 Knoll designs can be found in the permanent design collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis, Minnesota) United States historic place

Christ Church Lutheran is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Minneapolis. Its buildings—a sanctuary with chapel (1949) and an education wing (1962) designed by Finnish-American architects Eliel Saarinen and Eero Saarinen—have been internationally recognized, most recently in 2009 as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S Department of the Interior.

Charles Ormond Eames Jr. was an American designer, architect and film maker in professional partnership with his spouse, Ray Kaiser Eames, he was responsible for groundbreaking contributions in the field of architecture, furniture design, industrial design, manufacturing and the photographic arts.

Charles J. and Ingrid V. (Frendberg) Koebel House United States historic place

The Charles J. and Ingrid V. (Frendberg) Koebel House is a private house located at 203 Cloverly Road in Grosse Pointe Farms. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Aline B. Saarinen

Aline Bernstein Saarinen was a well-known critic of art and architecture in the United States, an author and a television journalist.

Lilian Louisa "Lily" Swann Saarinen was an American sculptor, artist, and writer. She was the first wife of Finnish-American architect and industrial designer Eero Saarinen, with whom she sometimes collaborated.

Don Charles Albinson was an American industrial designer who made many contributions to the world of furniture. He worked with Charles and Ray Eames for 13 years, helping develop many of the seminal Herman Miller furniture pieces from the mid century – the bent plywood chair, the fiberglass shell chair, the aluminum group set, and the Eames Lounge chair, to name a few. He later developed the Knoll Stack chair, the Westinghouse office line, an update to the DoMore Series 7 landscape system named Neo 7, the Albi stack chair for Fixtures, and the Bounce chair for Stylex.

Marianne Strengell was an influential Finnish-American Modernist textile designer in the twentieth century. Strengell was a professor at Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1937 to 1942, and served as department head from 1942 to 1962. She was able to translate hand-woven patterns for mechanized production, and pioneered the use of synthetic fibers.

Ruth Adler Schnee is an American textile designer and interior designer based in Michigan. Schnee is best known for her modern prints and abstract-patterns of organic and geometric forms. She opened the Ruth Adler-Schnee Design Studio with her spouse Edward Schnee in Detroit, which operated until 1960. The studio produced textiles and later branched off into Adler-Schnee Associates home decor, interiors and furniture.

Eric Saarinen is a Finnish American cinematographer and film director. His parents were architect Eero Saarinen and his first wife, sculptor Lilian Swann Saarinen.

Pipsan Saarinen Swanson

Eva-Lisa "Pipsan" Saarinen Swanson (March 31, 1905 - October 23, 1979) was a Finnish-American industrial, interior, and textile designer based in Michigan. She was known for her contemporary furniture, textile, and product designs.


  1. 1 2 3 Staff of Arkkitehtuurimuseo (2012). "Eero Saarinen". (in Finnish). Helsinki, FIN: Arkkitehtuurimuseo [Museum of Finnish Architecture]. Archived from the original on March 6, 2017. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  2. 1 2 Staff of Arkkitehtuurimuseo (2012). "Eliel Saarinen". (in Finnish). Helsinki, FIN: Arkkitehtuurimuseo [Museum of Finnish Architecture]. Archived from the original on March 6, 2017. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  3. Dorman, John L. (October 6, 2017). "Eero Saarinen's Michigan". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  4. 1 2 Coir, Mark (2006). "The Cranbrook Factor". In Pelkonen, Eeva-Liisa; Albrecht, Donald (eds.). Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN   978-0972488129 . Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  5. 1 2 Still, Sylvia (2016). "Eero Saarinen". Muenchen, DEU: Art Directory GmbH. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  6. "Experts Pick Best-Designed Products of Modern Times" (PDF). New York Times. 22. March 31, 1959. Retrieved March 22, 2017.CS1 maint: location (link)
  7. Doyle, Rachel B. (October 13, 2014). "Nobody Did Midcentury Perfection Like 1956 General Motors". Curbed. Retrieved September 16, 2021.
  8. "architect".
  9. 1 2 Sydney Opera House History 1954–1958 Archived June 4, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  10. 1 2 3 "The Role of Eero Saarinen". Building Brandeis. Brandeis University Library. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  11. 1 2 Bernstein, Gerald S. (1999). Building a Campus: An Architectural Celebration of Brandeis University's 50th Anniversary. Waltham, Massachusetts: Brandeis University Office of Publications. pp. 25–26. OCLC   42703912.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Coir, Mark (2006). "The Cranbrook Factor". In Pelkonen, Eeva-Liisa; Albrecht, Donald (eds.). Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future2. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN   978-0972488129 . Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  13. "The TWA Hotel Takes Flight at J.F.K." The New York Times. May 15, 2019. Retrieved May 18, 2019.
  14. "The TWA Hotel opens at JFK". May 16, 2019. Retrieved May 18, 2019.
  15. "What's Old Is New Again: TWA Hotel Opens At JFK Airport". CBS New York. May 15, 2019. Retrieved May 18, 2019.
  16. Marefat, Mina (October 25, 2010). "Revealed: Eero Saarinen's Secret Wartime Role in the White House". The Architectural Review . Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  17. Middleton, William D. (2012). On Railways Far Away. Indiana University Press. p. 96. ISBN   9780253005946.
  18. "Five Elected to Arts Institute" (PDF). New York Times. February 10, 1954. p. 36. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
  19. American Institute of Architects. "Gold Medal-AIA". AIA. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
  20. Emanuel, Muriel (2016). Contemporary Architects. Springer. p. 695. ISBN   9781349041848.
  21. "The LOC.GOV Wise Guide : An Architecture of Plurality".
  22. "Love & Architecture". Knoll. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  23. Sean Flynn. "All in the family". | News and information for Newport, Rhode Island. The Newport Daily News.
  24. "Saarinen, Aline B. (Aline Bernstein), 1914-1972".
  25. "The Eero Saarinen Masterpiece No One Sees: IBM Manufacturing and Training Facility in Rochester, Minnesota". Untapped Cities. August 20, 2013.
  26. Entry for Eero Saarinen on Find a Grave
  27. Scully, Vincent (1988). American Architecture and Urbanism (New Revised ed.). pp. 196–200.
  28. AAA Staff (December 28, 2016). "Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1906-1977". Archives of American Art (AAA). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  29. Meehan, Jennifer. "A Finding Aid to the Aline and Eero Saarinen Papers, 1906-1977, in the Archives of American Art". Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on January 16, 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  30. "Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1906-1977". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  31. "Finding aid for the Eero Saarinen collection". Canadian Centre for Architecture . Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  32. Arkkitehtuurimuseo Staff (October 1, 2006). "Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future". Helsinki, FIN: Arkkitehtuurimuseo [Museum of Finnish Architecture]. Archived from the original on May 13, 2007. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  33. NBM Staff (May 3, 2008). "Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future". Washington, DC: National Building Museum (NBM). Archived from the original on December 28, 2016. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  34. Pelkonen, Eeva-Liisa; Albrecht, Donald, eds. (2006). Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN   978-0972488129 . Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  35. About the Film - Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future | American Masters | PBS