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Spotlight: Eero Saarinen - A Pioneer of Modern Architecture

Image: TWA Terminal. Image © Flickr user samsebeskazal licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 Eero Saarinen, the son of the renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, left an indelible mark on the world of architecture. Born on...

Spotlight: Eero Saarinen - More Images Image: TWA Terminal. Image © Flickr user samsebeskazal licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Eero Saarinen, the son of the renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, left an indelible mark on the world of architecture. Born on August 20, 1910, Eero not only shared his father's birthday but also carried forward his rational Art Deco style, infusing it with a neofuturist internationalism that featured sweeping curves and abundant use of glass. Despite his tragically short career due to his untimely death on September 1, 1961, Saarinen achieved remarkable success and accolades, winning some of the most coveted commissions of the mid-twentieth century.

A Storied Journey

Spotlight: Eero Saarinen - More Images

Eero Saarinen was born in Finland but spent his early years there before his family's architectural pursuits led them to the United States. Following in his father's footsteps, Eero studied design under Eliel at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. He then pursued further education in Paris in the late 1920s and later at the Yale School of Architecture, where he graduated in 1934. Eero first gained recognition for his collaboration with his father, particularly for their furniture design with Charles Eames. Throughout his career, he continued to create influential furniture pieces. One of his most iconic designs, the Tulip Chair for Knoll, is celebrated as a timeless masterpiece.

Carving His Own Path

The Tulip Chair Image: The Tulip Chair. Image © Wikimedia user Holger.Ellgaard licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Saarinen's breakout moment came in 1947 when, still working at his father's firm, he submitted his own design for the St. Louis Gateway Arch competition, ultimately winning the commission. An amusing anecdote reveals that the competition organizers initially addressed their telegram to Eliel Saarinen, resulting in a three-day delay before Eero was officially announced as the winner. This triumph was marked by Eliel's gracious response, as he raised a glass to toast his son's achievement.

Iconic Designs

St Louis Gateway Arch Image: St Louis Gateway Arch. Image © Flickr user jeffnps licensed under CC BY 2.0

In 1950, while collaborating on the General Motors Technical Center, Saarinen found himself as the sole architect following his father's passing. He capitalized on this opportunity, creating innovative and rational designs with steel and glass that differed greatly from his father's style. This newfound recognition catapulted Saarinen into the spotlight, leading him to secure prestigious commissions throughout the 1950s. Some of his most notable works include the iconic TWA Terminal, Washington DC's Dulles International Airport, and the American Embassy in London.

A Lasting Legacy

Saarinen's versatility and prolificacy earned him widespread acclaim in the mid-twentieth century. His ability to seamlessly transition between steel and glass cubist designs and sweeping futuristic structures became his trademark. In 1962, a year after his untimely demise, the American Institute of Architects awarded him the prestigious Gold Medal. However, his work also faced criticism, notably from Yale professor Vincent Scully, who questioned Saarinen's lack of a signature style.

MIT Chapel Image: MIT Chapel. Image © Flickr user janela_da_alma licensed under CC BY 2.0

Saarinen's life was tragically cut short at the age of 51 when he passed away during surgery to remove a brain tumor. His former partners, Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, completed many of his unfinished works, including the St. Louis Arch, and went on to have successful careers of their own. Although Saarinen's impact was not fully appreciated until recently, the donation of Roche and Dinkeloo's Saarinen archives to Yale in 2005 sparked a renewed interest in his designs in the past decade.

To explore more of Eero Saarinen's groundbreaking work, browse through the thumbnails below:

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