Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Saarinen, Eliel

Eliel Saarinen is the architect who created the campus design of the Cranbrook Educational Community, as well as notable buildings in his homeland of Finland. Born on August 20, 1873 in Rantasalmi, Finland, Saarinen became famous for his Art Nouveau buildings in the early years of the 20th century.

Studying at the Helsinki University of Technology he joined classmates Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren to form the firm of Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen in 1896. His design of the Finnish Pavilion at the 1900 World’s Fair exhibited a style that would later be called Finnish National Romanticism. In 1904 he won the design competition for the Central Railway Station in Helsinki, incorporating influences of Finnish wooden architecture, British Gothic Revival and Jugendstil, or Art Nouveau.

On March 6, 1904, Saarinen married Louise (Loja) Gesellius, a textile designer and sculptor. They had two children; a daughter, Eva-Lisa (Pipsan), and a son, Eero. Eero Saarinen would later continue his father’s work at Cranbrook and went on to become one of the leaders of modernism.

In January 1911, Saarinen became a consultant in city planning for Reval, Estonia and was invited to Budapest to advise in city development. In April 1913 he received the first-place award in an international competition for his plan of Reval. A 1915 Plan for Greater Helsinki, revised in 1918, was never realized but influenced future planning efforts of the city.

Saarinen and his family moved to the United States in 1923 after his noted competition entry for the Tribune Tower in Chicago, Illinois, took second place. They moved to Michigan in 1924, where Saarinen, as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan’s school of architecture, had Henry Scripps Booth, son of Detroit News president and Cranbrook estate owner George Booth, as a student.

This led to George Booth’s invitation in 1925 to create a plan for the campus of what was then known only as Cranbrook. Saarinen designed the boy’s school and girl’s school (Kingswood), the Art Academy and the Art Museum and Library. He also taught there and was the first president of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, from 1932-1946. Saarinen House, called “Eliel Saarinen’s Art Deco masterpiece” where he lived with his family from 1930 to 1950, is open for tours.

Though there are no buildings in Detroit designed by Saarinen, in 1924, and with his son Eero in 1941, he was commissioned to create a plan for the Detroit Civic Center, along the river front. Neither plan was adopted, although the 1941 plan had concepts that were later incorporated. The American Institute of Architects Gold Medal was awarded to him in 1947. He died on July 1, 1950, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and is buried in Kirkkonummi, Finland on the grounds of his summer home.



Photo of Cranbrook School dining hall, 1960 - 2012.022.271

Photo showing the Peristyle of the Cranbrook Art Museum in the background, 1980 - 2012.022.281

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