Eero Saarinen at 100

Today marks
the 100th birthday of Eero Saarinen, the Finnish-American architect
whose work both reflected and defined a post-World War II American national
aesthetic. Saarinen, who passed away in 1961, was born on August 20, 1910 in Kirkkonummi, Finland,
a few miles southwest of Helsinki.
Saarinen’s father, Eliel, was a prominent Finnish architect and, when the
family immigrated to the United States
in 1923, secured a teaching job at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Strongly
influenced by his father’s artistic vocation, Saarinen studied sculpture and
design, first at Cranbrook, then at the Académie
de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, and finally at the Yale School of
Architecture, where he received his degree in 1934. For the next 16 years,
Saarinen would work closely with his father, developing an architectural style strongly
influenced by his modern contemporaries, such as Philip Johnson, Mies van der
Rohe, and Le Corbusier.

After his father’s death in 1950, Saarinen opened his own architectural
firm, Eero Saarinen and Associates. From the firm’s inception until Saarinen’s
untimely death in 1961, Eero Saarinen and Associates would help usher in a
second generation of architectural modernism. This group of architects retained
the first generation’s interest in new construction technologies, but broke
sharply from its forbears by shunning abstraction and minimalism. These second
generation architects, led by Eero Saarinen, instead embraced a search for
variety and visual effects, promoting a “style for the job” approach that catered
much more specifically to the needs and demands of individual clients.
Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future: Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen and Donald Albrect

From the TWA Terminal at JFK airport to the Ingalls Hockey Rink at Yale University,
from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis to the General Motors
Technical Center
outside of Detroit,
Eero Saarinen’s works in the 1950s are emblematic of a post-World War II
American national identity. Strongly associated with the nation’s post-war
ideals of higher education, automobile culture, air travel, suburbanization,
and the newest information technologies, Saarinen’s works operate on a scale
designed to impress and inspire its audience. These works are grand, sleek, and
powerful. As Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen and Donald Albrecht write in their 2006 illustrated
study, Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future,
these monuments reflected and defined the aspirations and values of
mid-twentieth century America; with their swooping concrete vaults and thin
glass veneers, they were both popular and “potent expressions of national

Saarinen: Shaping the Future
, published by Yale University
Press, is available for purchase here.

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