The profound legacy of the influential architect Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen

Born August 20th 1910 in the municipality of Kirkkonummi just outside Helsinki
Passed away at the age of 51 on September 1st 1961, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen

Eliel Saarinen at Cranbook Art Academy with son Eero Saarinen and other students. Photo by Charles Eames.

Eliel Saarinen at Cranbook Art Academy with son Eero Saarinen and other students. Photo by Charles Eames.

Eliel and Eero Saarinen

Interestingly, Eero shared his birthday with his influential and noted architect father, Eliel Saarinen (August 20th 1873- July 1st 1950). I think it is very sad that Eero died only eleven years after his father who had lived a whole twenty-six years longer.

The family moved to the USA in 1923, first setting up home in Evanston, Illinois. A year after moving to the USA, his father became a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. His father eventually designing the Cranbrook Educational Community which as the USA’s answer to the Bauhaus. His father taught at the academy eventually becoming President of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1923. His students included the awesome Ray Eames.

My favourite building by Eliel in the USA is Des Moines Art Centre which opened 1948.

Des Moines Art Center 1948 - Photograph by Doug Miller

Des Moines Art Center 1948 - Photograph by Doug Miller

So the young Eero Saarinen spent his formative years surrounded by some of the world’s most talented, exciting and brilliant architects, artists and designer of the age. In my opinion that is why his talent exploded in all direction, he designed iconic chairs and furniture, his buildings include the St Louis Arch, the Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo.

Tragically Eero would never see his last 10 buildings through to completion, he died during an operation to remove a brain tumour. Saarinen’s influence was such that he was asked to sit on the jury for the design competition for the Sydney Opera House.

The TWA Terminal

Saarinen is very well known for his stunning and dramatic design for Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight Centre which is at The JFK airport in New York city.

The original terminal was opened in 1962 and was heavily remodelled in 2005. In 1962 air travel was still an exciting thing to be part of. It was the jet age. The airline companies had money and the fight for customers was building. Companies were looking for a way to be different and terminal buildings were key to this. This new building was to be part of the airlines most successful marketing campaign.

TWA terminal, New York. The bird-like Structure sitting empty in 2015.

TWA terminal, New York. The bird-like Structure sitting empty in 2015.

The TWA Flight Centre’s construction is known as a ‘thin shell concrete structure’. It is not a large building it is only built from 5400 tons of concrete is 67 m wide and 96 meters long. It is a little over 5000m2.

The contemporary purists of modern architects were alarmed by the bird like design, Saarinen defended his design saying,

"All the curves, all the spaces and elements right down to the shape of the signs, display boards, railings and check-in desks were to be of a matching nature. We wanted passengers passing through the building to experience a fully-designed environment, in which each part arises from another and everything belongs to the same formal world."

To me Saarinen’s design evokes the drama and the pure excitement of air travel. Whilst we walk through shiny, convenient airports, I do not think we will ever love them. Honk Kong airport is impressive, T4 in London…shiny but not worthy of affection. The romance of air travel at the time was undeniable, it was not just getting on a flying bus, it was an event, it made people feel if they were part of mankind's technological and economic elite.

Inside the TWA terminal designed by Eero Saarinen, opened 1962

Inside the TWA terminal designed by Eero Saarinen, opened 1962

The project was so exciting that Saarinen was able to attract the cream of industrial and interior designers to work on the project. One example was the frenchman Raymond Loewy who designed the Union News Restaurant’s coffee shop. Loewy’s own clients included Studebaker, Boeing - where he designed Airforce One’s color scheme and the USA Postal service. Later in the 70’s Loewy would design the interior of Concorde for Air France.. Everything from Locomotives to Razors…an amazing man and a highly suitable collaborator for Eero.

Here we look at every kind of architecture, often including steel and other metals of course, current and historical usually by famous and influential architects but sometimes by names that are surprisingly lesser known.

The Castelar Building, Madrid, Spain – a glass lantern floating above the Paseo de la Castellana - Double Stone Steel

The Castelar Building, Madrid, Spain – a glass lantern floating above the Paseo de la Castellana

The conviction of Rafael de La-Hoz Arderius and Gerardo Olivares to build a minimalist sculpture of steel, glass and travertine on an urban scale.

The story of how the Petersen Automotive Museum leapt into the 21st century with a futuristic steel exoskeleton design strongly influenced by car culture - Double Stone Steel

The story of how the Petersen Automotive Museum leapt into the 21st century with a futuristic steel exoskeleton design strongly influenced by car culture

Robin Fisher explores this building, located at the gateway of Los Angeles' famous Museum Row, extensively renovated through the work of Kohn Pedersen Fox and A.Zahner.

The US Steel Tower, a lasting beacon on the Pittsburgh skyline and legacy of Andrew Carnegie - Double Stone Steel

The US Steel Tower, a lasting beacon on the Pittsburgh skyline and legacy of Andrew Carnegie

Richard Storer-Adam reviews the design and construction of this 64-story skyscraper, built in the 1970’s with Cor-Ten steel, symbolising the triumph of the US Steel industry.

The design story of the Seagram Building, 375 Park Avenue, New York City, built in 1957 - Double Stone Steel

The design story of the Seagram Building, 375 Park Avenue, New York City, built in 1957

Richard Storer-Adam reviews the background and architecture of this iconic modernist glass and bronze tower by German-American architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and American associate architect Philip Cortelyou Johnson.

An examination of the design theory behind Seattle Central Library by OMA - Double Stone Steel

An examination of the design theory behind Seattle Central Library by OMA

Antonio Moll reviews the first work by the Dutch Office in the USA, 16 years after its opening, considering what is probably the most disrupting piece of architecture of the 21st Century.

The Flatiron Building (originally the Fuller Building), designed by Daniel H. Burnham and built in 1902 - Double Stone Steel

The Flatiron Building (originally the Fuller Building), designed by Daniel H. Burnham and built in 1902

Richard Storer-Adam dwells on the genesis of NYC’s most iconic skyscraper and ‘quintessential symbol’ of Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA named after the Flatiron district.

How our use of metals and finishing processes features in design today and since prehistoric times.

The Mini - an iconic car with a design that is recognised around the world. - Double Stone Steel

The Mini - an iconic car with a design that is recognised around the world.

Considered the second most influential car of the 20th Century just after the Ford Model T the Mini is a British Pop-culture icon.

The story of Kem Weber (1889 – 1963), one of the proponents of Art Deco design and architecture in 1930s America - Double Stone Steel

The story of Kem Weber (1889 – 1963), one of the proponents of Art Deco design and architecture in 1930s America

Richard Storer-Adam recounts the work of this influential industrial designer, famous for his work with Walt Disney Studios, through two of his favourite products created in the style of Streamline Moderne.

How the simple industrial process of tube drawing allows for the production of precision quality pipe and tube - Double Stone Steel

How the simple industrial process of tube drawing allows for the production of precision quality pipe and tube

Richard Storer-Adam gives a brief history of two essential modern-day products - hypodermic needles and steel pipes - and the manufacturing technique that connects them.

A brief tutorial on the most luxurious stainless steel watches in the world - Double Stone Steel

A brief tutorial on the most luxurious stainless steel watches in the world

Richard Storer-Adam gives a brief tutorial on Rose and Rose Gold watches, watch straps, lugs and integrated wrist bands including the Rolex Glidelock system in 904L stainless steel.

A virtual tour of Oscar Niemeyer’s Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, Brazil - Double Stone Steel

A virtual tour of Oscar Niemeyer’s Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, Brazil

An appreciative and honest critique of this dramatic architectural work - Lola Adeokun shares her experiences and feelings whilst visiting Niemeyer’s museum of art in Rio de Janeiro.

A study of the major design influencer Jean Prouvé - Double Stone Steel

A study of the major design influencer Jean Prouvé

Richard Storer-Adam gives an overview of the life of an iconic mid-century designer whose background as a blacksmith and empathy with metal fabrication played out in his work ranging from furniture, such as the famous Standard SP chair, to pre-fabricated buildings.