Eero Saarinen was one of the most celebrated architects and designers of the 20th century. In an era dominated by overly orthogonal International Style, he pioneered the use of organic forms in both architecture and furniture design.
Eero Saarinen: a biography
Born in the Finnish town of Kirkkonummi in 1910, Eero Saarinen was the son of well-known architect, Eliel Saarinen. In 1923, the family immigrated to the USA, and two years later Eliel Saarinen was commissioned to design the Cranbrook Educational Community art school. He later became the school’s president.
Eero Saarinen began to study sculpture in Paris in 1929, before changing his focus to architecture, which he studied at Yale University. In 1936, Saarinen started working at his father’s architecture firm. Together with Charles Eames, Saarinen entered the ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’ competition, organised by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1940. Eames and Saarinen’s Organic Armchair won the first prize.
Saarinen gained public recognition as an architect with his design for the Jefferson National Memorial. He founded his own practice in 1950 in Birmingham, Michigan, and soon became one of the most sought-after architects in the country. Between 1950 and 1955, he designed the Kresge Auditorium and a chapel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His best-known architectural design, the TWA Terminal at the John F Kennedy Airport in New York, as well as the terminal at the Washington Dulles International Airport were begun, but not completed by Eero Saarinen, who died following brain surgery in 1961.
Saarinen did not only use organic forms in his architecture, but also in his furniture: the Tulip Chair and the Womb Chair have both come to represent timeless elegance with their curvaceous designs.
Saarinen’s Womb Chair
The Womb Chair came onto the market in 1948 and is an icon of modern chair design. The chair consists of a padded fibreglass shell on tubular steel legs, and envelops the sitter in a comfortable, reclining position inspired by a mother’s womb. The chair was designed at the request of Florence Knoll, who was taught by Saarinen’s father and was a designer and owner of the furniture company Knoll.
The Tulip Chair
Designed in 1956 by Saarinen, the Tulip Chair and Tulip Table both became instant hits with the public. Manufactured by Knoll, the shell of the tulip chair was made of plastic and rested on only one leg. With its dynamic, slender shape, the Tulip Chair and Table represent optimistic, futuristic, mid-century modernism in their design.
TWA Flight Center
Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center in New York is designed to reflect the glamour of air travel. The building is said to resemble a giant bird, its outspread wings poised for take-off. The building’s large expanses of glass and domed roof represent the gravity-defying act of air travel. The Transworld Airline terminal opened in 1962 and its primary function was to allow for the efficient handling of large numbers of passengers. The building’s expansive vaults are made of reinforced concrete, giving the building a flowing, organic shape. This prime example of so-called ‘Googie’ architecture further cemented Saarinen’s reputation as the most futuristic architect and designer of the postwar era in America.