Eero Saarinen is a Finnish-American Architect who needs no introduction. He is famous for his role in the second movement of Modernism. He was known to be a very motivated and ambitious architect who was extremely passionate about his craft. Saarinen junior was a reputed architect who refused to be restrained by preconceived ideas and philosophies. His works exhibited a fresh dramatic look, which was much appreciated by the people as it broke the monotony of the prevalent clean architecture style of that time. Eero had a short but very successful architectural career. During his time, he designed many monumental buildings such as The Gateway Arch, MIT Chapel, U.S. Embassy, etc., collaborated with artists and architects such as Charles Eames and his father, Eliel Saarinen. His most famous works include not only Architectural structures but many modern furniture pieces in the early 1960s.

The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen: World's tallest Arch - Sheet1
Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) Source: ©

Personal Life and rise as an Architect

Eero Saarinen is the son of famous Architect, Eliel Saarinen, and artist, and sculptor Loja Gesellius. Ever since he was a child, he was very influenced by his parents’ work. He studied sculpture designing for a short while in Paris after which he pursued his dream of becoming an Architect at Yale University. After this, he worked in multiple offices which brushed up his skills in Architecture. In 1938, he joined his father’s practice and worked alongside him on several projects, up till his father’s demise. His works showcase his love for sculpture and make bold statements, unlike the majority of the buildings at that time. His passion for Architecture and his creative ideas that shattered norms played a significant role in his rise as an Architect and his stellar reputation.

His design philosophy was clear since the beginning of his career. The Six Pillars of Architecture, which he followed during the 1960s, is useful in building design even after six decades. 

Six Pillars of Architecture:

o Respect for function
o Structural Integrity
o Awareness of Time
o Integration with Environment
o Expression of Meaning
o Unity of Design

The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen: World's tallest Arch - Sheet2
Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) Source: ©
The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen: World's tallest Arch - Sheet3
The Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri Source: © 

The Gateway Arch is a Cultural building located at the Mississippi riverfront area in St. Louis, Missouri. It has become an iconic image in the history of St. Louis. The structure stimulates the audience with the sheer grandeur and tranquillity of the building. With the shape of an arch, the structure is the centerpiece of a 62-acre site with a stunning landscape. The span asserts a more significant statement than just being visually affecting. Its shape and monumental size advocate the purpose of celebrating the fascinating story of national expansion through time and space. The project started in 1948 and was completed in 1965, unfortunately, four years after the passing of Eero Saarinen. With a total construction cost of 13 million dollars, the building was a structural success and won the AIA Twenty-Five-year award in 1990. The entire site was designated a National Historic Landmark status in 1987.

How it all started? | Gateway Arch

Civic leader Luther Ely Smith envisioned the Gateway Arch. It was designed to commemorate the contribution of all men and women who made the western territorial expansion of the United States possible. The idea was put forth, and the competition was initiated for the design proposal of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (named after President Thomas Jefferson of the United States of America). Eero Saarinen entered the competition with his grand Arch design and won it in 1948. 

The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen: World's tallest Arch - Sheet4
The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen: World's tallest Arch - Sheet5

Form and Design Concept

Eero was evident in the kind of structure he wanted to create. He wanted to build a monument that would have a lasting significance on the audience and stand as a landmark which passes the test of time. The influence of art and sculpture design is evident when you see the majestic structure. It is dramatic yet straightforward enough for the purpose, and it seems just right for the site. 

The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen: World's tallest Arch - Sheet6

The catenary curve was the starting point of his design concept. He envisioned the building to be an Arch, which resonates with the dome of the Palace of Justice and sits well on the surroundings and the riverfront. The curve stands on two equilateral triangles and has a triangular section of variable sizes along the curve. This graceful and spectacular structure, 630 feet tall and wide, is the highest human-made monument in the United States and the tallest arch in the world. 


The Memorial includes, besides the Arc, an underground visitor center for the Museum of Westward Expansion, which tells the story of the city’s history, the movement of the nation’s expansion, and the people that helped in doing so. There are also theatres with film screenings regarding the same and on the construction of the arch. Saarinen also wanted the arch to be used as an observation deck. At a time, a group of 12 people can be transported to the top of the structure via a passenger train specially designed to accommodate the curved path inside the arch.

Once at the top, the audience can enjoy a beautiful view of the city from 192 meters above the ground.

The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen: World's tallest Arch - Sheet8

Material and Structure Details | Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch is a perfect example of scale and mathematical precision in Architecture. The construction started with the base on both sides and extended to the top by stacking triangles made of prestressed concrete and clad with stainless steel. The triangles at the bases were the biggest and decreased in size as they neared the top, which helped the overall structural stability of the arch. The architectural design was precarious, and thus, special precautions were taken to make sure it gets erected correctly. The two triangular bases had to be completely aligned, and if there were a difference of even 1/64th inch, they would not have joined at the top. The reinforced concrete foundations sink to 18.28m depth and extend 9.14m in the bedrock, which actively contributed to the structural strength of the Arc.

The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen: World's tallest Arch - Sheet10

The construction took place a few hundred meters from the ground, but the team of workers managed to complete the process without any casualties. Other than this, the building finished within the time limit, at a stellar safety record, and within the budget. The Gateway Arch sure is a perfect example of Saarinen’s concept of creating a successful structure that defies expectations.



Ojaswita is an Architect by profession and a Designer by passion. She is a creative and hardworking individual with a knack for trying new things, one of which is Architectural Journalism. An introvert who gets curious easily, she loves to find out about the different cultures of the world and the many stories they tell.