Encyclopedia Of Detroit

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Saarinen, Eero

Architect and industrial designer Eero Saarinen was born in Finland on August 20, 1910. Saarinen, son of famed architect Eliel Saarinen, moved to America with his family in 1923. He grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where his father co-founded and taught at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Beginning in September 1929, Eero studied sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, France. He then attended the Yale School of Architecture, graduating in 1934. After graduation, Saarinen toured Europe and North Africa for a year and spent a year in Finland, after which he returned to Cranbrook to work for his father and teach at Cranbrook Academy.

Saarinen first received critical recognition in 1940 for a chair he designed with close friend and collaborator, Charles Eames, for which they won first prize at the Museum of Modern Art’s "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition. The "Tulip Chair," as it became known, was the basis of the seating used on the original Star Trek television series. Saarinen also took first prize in the 1948 competition for the design of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Gateway Arch) in St. Louis, which was completed in 1965. The first major work by Saarinen, in collaboration with his father, was the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, constructed in 1956.

During World War II, Saarinen was recruited to work for the Office of Strategic Services where he designed models of new equipment and weapons and, most importantly, the first Situation Room for the White House.

Saarinen opened his own architectural firm, Eero Saarinen and Associates, in Bloomfield Hills, where he was the principal partner from 1950 until his death in 1961, when the firm moved to Hamden, Connecticut. Under Saarinen, the firm carried out many of its most important works including the Gateway Arch  in St. Louis, Missouri, the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and the main terminal of Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.

Saarinen died on September 1, 1961, while undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. He had two children from his first marriage, Eric and Susan. Following his divorce from the sculptor Lilian Swann Saarinen in 1954, Saarinen married Aline Bernstein Louchheim, an art critic at The New York Times. They had a son, Eames, named after his friend and collaborator Charles Eames.

 


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