Eero Saarinen: Profile of a Great Architect and Industrial Designer

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Eero Saarinen is by far my favorite industrial designer and architect, from the tulip chair (one of my favorites) to the Miller house, Eero was and remains one of the most notorious, emblematic and influential figures of the mid century modern design period. One New Year’s Day at 8 o’clock in the morning, Eero Saarinen arrived at his office, looked around and, seeing only his assistant Kevin Roche, asked: “Where the hell is everybody?” Roche then had to remind Saarinen that it was a major holiday. But most people who worked or lived with Eero Saarinen would probably say that was par for the course. Eero Saarinen was a highly ambitious and extremely motivated architect – we might say today that his work gave him “tunnel vision”.

Eero Saarinen’s early life

Born in Finland August 20th 1910, Eero quickly develops a taste for art and design as his father, Eliel Saarinen was already an architect known for his work with art nouveau buildings. In 1923 the Saarinen family moved to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he grew up. His father became dean of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and he took courses in sculpture and furniture design there. He had a close relationship with fellow students Charles and Ray Eames, and became good friends with Florence Knoll. He studied in Paris the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in 1929 and then finished his studies at the Yale architecture school in 1934.

Eero Saarinen’s career

After touring North Africa, Europe and having lived a year in his motherland Finland, he returned to Bloomfield, Michigan and worked for the Saarinen, Swansen and Associates architecture firm. Eero first received recognition, for the Tulip Chair who he designed with Charles Eames for the “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition in 1940, for which they received first prize. The Tulip Chair, like all other Saarinen chairs, was taken into production by the Knoll furniture company.

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His next major recognition came after winning first prize of the 1948 competition for the design of the Gateway Arch National Park. However the award letter was accidentally sent to his father as both architects joined the competition separately.  

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Eero Saarinen went on to work on different architectural projects across the United States. Among them the most famous being: The TWA flight center at the JFK airport in New York, Washington D.C Dulles international airport, the Miller house in Indiana, the US Embassy in London and the US Embassy in Oslo.

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Eero Saarinen died on September first, 1961, at  51 while undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. He was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, overseeing the completion of a new music building for the University of Michigan.

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