The Finnish-American architect, Eero Saarinen’s architectural legacy, his design philosophies, and thinking were way ahead of his time. His works pushed the established boundaries of modernism and introduced sculptural forms and visual drama unknown in earlier years. He cared about what images of buildings evoked, what they felt-like. He wanted to create buildings that would engage emotionally – that was something different from what was going on with modernism in the 50s. Today, Saarinen is considered as one of the masters of American 20th-century architecture.
Saarinen was born in Finland on August 20, 1910, to famous architect Eliel Saarinen and textile designer and sculptor Loja Saarinen. Following the family footsteps, Eero moved to Paris where he studied sculpture at the end of the 1920s, and he then went on to study architecture at Yale University, from which he graduated in 1934. A few years after graduating, he returned to the United States in 1936 and joined his father’s architecture practice, Saarinen Swansen and Associates. During his long association with the firm, Saarinen designed many important buildings that included the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois, one of the earliest works of Saarinen to receive international acclaim. In 1950, after his father’s demise in 1950, Saarinen founded his firm, Eero Saarinen and Associates. His first major work was the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. The Tech Center received architectural accolades and was described as the ‘Industrial Versailles’ for the scale and visual splendor. In his short career, Saarinen had designed some of the most incredible buildings known today. His best known architectural design includes the Miller House in Columbus, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, the North Christian Church in Columbus, and the Dulles International Airport on the outskirts of Washington D.C.
Saarinen designed very few residential projects, and Miller’s house is one of them. Designed for the industrialist J.Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia, the house epitomizes the modernist aesthetic with a seamless blend of Saarinen’s steel and glass composition. The special element of the house is the central space with a sunken conversation pit, a courtyard of sorts inside the building. The house landscape is designed by architect Dan Kiley, who was picked by Saarinen to work with him on this project. Kiley’s approach was to take those interior rooms and to extend into the landscape and create outdoor rooms that diminished the distinctions between interior and exterior. To have three great designers putting together for one project; Saarinen for the residence commission, Alexander Girard for the interiors, and Kiley for the landscape masterpiece was the rarest rare thing to happen.
(Image 2 )Miller House and Garden- image 1source – wwwupload.wikimedia.org
(Image 2)Miller House and Garden- image 2- www.design.upenn.edu.org
(Image 3) Miller House and Garden- image 3 source – www.archinect.com
Eero Saarinen includes the dramatic curving and organic shape, to what he is known for, in the Dulles International Airport, Virginia. For the Dulles project, Saarinen made extensive research on airports across the country and came up with a terminal that is open, airy and provides a modern environment for travelers. The design is constructed of glass, steel, and concrete, and Saarinen’s signature catenary curved roof supported by cables. One of the significant features is the inclusion of the mobile lounges – designed by Chrysler to carry passengers to their plane—allowed the architect to focus on an uncluttered floor plan and the flow of the space.
(Image 4) Dulles International Airport – image 1- source- www.archdaily.com
(Image 5) Dulles International Airport – image 2- source- www.pinterest.com
(Image 6) Dulles International Airport- image 3 source-www.som.com
In 1947, a nationwide architecture competition for a design of a new monument was held for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which was won by Saarinen. His winning entry is what today’s massive Gateway Arch; one of the most iconic monuments in the United States. Saarinen worked at first with the scientific considerations. He chose a weighted catenary over a normal catenary curve to give a less pointed and less steep look. The arch embodies steel and concrete triangular sections that vary in thickness from 54ft at the bottom to 17ft at the top. The steel plates are assembled very tightly against each other for greater structural stability and also to give it a more slender aesthetic. Saarinen’s choice for bold organic form clad in stainless steel transcends spiritual and aesthetic value, symbolizing American culture and civilization.
(Image 7) Gateway Arch image 1 – source- media2.fdncms.com
(Image 8) Gateway Arch- image 2 – source- www.archpark.org
The modernist hexagonal church is Saarinen’s last architectural work in Columbus. As observed in his other buildings, the North Christian Church signifies simplicity and dramatic formal geometries. Saarinen believed that because of the expansion of secondary spaces in modern church buildings, the focus shifted away from the act of worship. Saarinen’s object was, therefore, to design a building that resembled a traditional church, while incorporating modern architecture that served the needs of the assembly. Programmatically, Saarinen imparts these priorities, by placing primary and secondary church functions on separate floors. The above ground level is dedicated to the central sanctuary and the remaining spaces – bathrooms, kitchen, and fellowship hall moved to a hidden basement. This led the sanctuary isolated; emphasizing it as the most important part of the building.
(Image 9) North Christian Church – image 1 -source – www.atlasofplaces.com
(Image 10) North Christian Church -image 2 source –www.atlasofplaces.com
(Image 11) North Christian Church -image 3 – source – www.atlasofplaces.com
Saarinen’s works didn’t stop with architectural designs – together with architectural greats like Florence Knoll and Ray and Charles Eames, Saarinen had produced numerous iconic furniture pieces. Two of his celebrated works are the Womb Chair, inspired by a mother’s womb, and the Tulip Chair, made of fiberglass and aluminum, remains a classic piece of design.
(Image 12) furniture design image- 1 source-www.knoll.com
(Image 13) Furniture design-image- 2 -source -www.knoll.com
Saarinen’s revered career came to an end with his untimely demise at the age of 51, during his brain tumor operation. Despite his success, Saarinen received an equal amount of negative criticism during and after his lifetime. He was criticized for the project-based approach and claimed that it lacked a coherent style. The architect, however, regarded his clients as ‘co-creators’, created with meticulous care, from the original analysis of a client’s problem to the final execution. His designs from Kennedy to Dulles, each of them evoked equally new and spectacular structural devices and functional innovation, moving easily between the so-called International Style and Expressionism in the mid-century era.