Spotlight: Eliel & Eero Saarinen

  • 20 Aug 2014
  • by
  • Architecture News mini
© Exothermic

Perhaps the most famous father-son duo in the architectural world, Eliel and Eero Saarinen share more than just a last name. The two designers both left profound influences upon the cities where they did their work, both were awarded AIA Gold Medals, and, rather uncannily, both share the very same date of birth. But, when it comes to their architectural stylings, that’s where the comparisons end. Find out more about both after the break.

©MWAA

Eliel Saarinen (1873 – 1950), was known in his native Finland for his art nouveau-inspired works (a style later christened as Finnish National Romanticism), culminating in the Helsinki Central railway station.

Eero Saarinen (1910–1961), however, gained fame as one of the leaders of the International Style, designing curvy landmarks that transformed the American landscape. We at ArchDaily have featured many of his projects as AD Classics: the David S. Ingalls Skating Rink ,Miller House, the MIT Chapel, and, even more famously, the TWA TerminalDulles International Airport (named by PBS as one of the 10 buildings that changed America), and St. Louis’ Gateway Arch. The exhibition : A Reputation for Innovation, which opened in April 2013 at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles, presented two key projects by Saarinen: the unbuilt Smithsonian Gallery of Art, which was to be Washington DC’s first museum of modern art, and Dulles International Airport, which was designed as the nation’s first jet airport. 

Eliel, despite being a respected architect and city planner in Europe (he in fact helped to shape cities in Finland, Hungary, and Estonia), decided to emigrate to the US after his second-place design entry for Chicago’s Tribune Tower was adopted in Houston, Texas (as the Gulf Building). Saarinen, with his wife and young family in tow (including a 13-year-old Eero), eventually settled in Michigan and became president of the Cranbook Academy of Art (designing many of the campus’ buildings) and professor at the University of Michigan.

The Tulip Chair, co-designed by Eero Saarinen and his friend Charles Eames. Photo CC Wikimedia Commons User Knoll.com.

Eero, who would become one of the most important American architects of the mid-20th century, began by studying sculpture and furniture design at Cranbook Academy of Art, where he befriended Charles and Ray Eames and Florence Knoll (pupils of his father). Charles Eames and Eero first gained recognition for their joint-effort: the “Tulip Chair,” a classic of industrial design that would go on to be mass-produced by the Knoll company (founded by Florence’s husband).

Eero started to gain credibility in the architecture world when he took first prize in the 1948 competition for the design of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka, the Gateway,completed in the 1960s).

After his father died in 1950 (at the age of 76), Saarinen founded his own architect’s office, “Eero Saarinen and Associates,” the firm which would not only design the headquarters for John Deere, GM, IBM, and CBS, but the many architectural classics we mentioned earlier. Interestingly, Eero also served on the jury for the Sydney Opera House design – not too surprising, considering that the Opera House shares many of Saarinsen’s own signature qualities: expressionism, concrete shells, and curved forms.

Eero died at the age of 51, and only eleven years after his father, due to a brain tumor. Remember his incredible contribution to architecture history by revisiting his classic works.

Story via Wikipedia and The Huffington Post

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "Spotlight: Eliel & Eero Saarinen" 20 Aug 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=265080>
  • Warren Rempel

    Eliel Saarinen did a lot of beautiful work in the Detroit area as well. The Cranbrook Academy comes to mind as a great example. And Eliel, in collaboration with his son Eero, designed the GM Technical center in Warren, Michigan. Much is made of ‘ruin porn’ in Detroit, but there’s a lot of really amazing architecture still standing and still in use.

    • http://www.archdaily.com Vanessa Quirk

      Good point Warren – I’ve updated the text to reflect Eliel’s work at Cranbrook.

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