Eero Saarinen


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Finnish-born American architect, the son of G. E. Saarinen. He studied in Paris, then Yale, and worked with Charles Eames at Kingswood, Cranbrook, MI, G. E. Saarinen's Academy. With Eames he designed moulded plywood chairs in the late 1930s and produced numerous other pieces of furniture until he became more closely involved with architecture after the 1939–45 war. He worked with his father at Ann Arbor, MI, from 1937, and from 1941 was in partnership with him before setting up his own practice as Eero Saarinen & Associates in 1950, having won the competition (1947–8) to design the Jefferson Memorial Park, St Louis, MO, with Kiley: however, it was Saarinen alone who designed the huge parabolic Gateway Arch, and Kiley was not involved in the design of the planting, although Saarinen intended that he should work on the project. At first, his architecture was in the International Modern style of Mies van der Rohe, notably his General Motors Technical Center, Warren, MI (1947–56), designed in collaboration with his father and others, but later, as with many American architects, he became concerned with the enriching of modern architecture that would still leave the buildings valid in terms of Functionalism. For the Kresge Auditorium Building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA (1952–6), he created a roof based on a triangular segment of a sphere: the whole ensemble was criticized for straying from Modernist principles and not going far enough to create a paradigm of architectural freedom of expression. It was too tentative. Certainly the exemplars of Le Corbusier's chapel at Ronchamp (1950–5) had created a desire towards a greater expression of emotion in architecture, and Saarinen was in the vanguard of this tendency in the USA. Although his work was championed by Hitchcock and others, many critics found it in bad taste, exhibiting far too many shapes and too few ideas: it has to be admitted that many of his buildings soon dated.

For MIT he had experimented with massive brick walls at the circular chapel (1952–6), and at Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne, IN, he also designed the chapel, this time with a pointed roof (1953–8). At the David S. Ingalls Ice Hockey Rink, Yale University, New Haven, CT (1953–9), he spanned the length of the building with a great central arch carrying the curved roof-structure. This was followed by the TWA Terminal Building at Kennedy International Airport, NYC (1956–62), with its huge sail-like vaulted roofs rising from dynamically shaped piers, expressive of wings and flight. The Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown, NY (1957–61), also exploited curves, to be used again at Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, VA, near Washington, DC (1958–63).

With the Ezra Stiles and Morse Colleges, Yale University (1958–62), the composition is stepped on plan and vertical section, and he used a fragmented, layered geometry for the treatment of the façades of the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London (1955–60—built in collaboration with Yorke, Rosenberg, & Mardall). He also collaborated with Kiley on several projects. His practice was continued by Roche and Dinkeloo after his death.


Subjects: Art — Architecture.

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