Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eero Saarinen, Master of 20th Century Architecture

Eero Saarinen may not be a household name today, but his legacy is known around the world—and will be for countless years to come. Saarinen is one of the more "prolific, unorthodox, and controversial"—and if I may add, quite brilliant—architects of the 20th Century. And you can learn all about him at the current exhibition at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA).

When you go see Eero Saarinen: A Reputation for Innovation, you'll immediately recognize Saarinen's work, which includes the Gateway Arch in St. Louis; the TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York; Yale's hockey rink; Kresge Chapel at MIT in Cambridge; and Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.

Eero Saarinen at MODA | TWA Terminal at JFK (model)
Eero Saarinen at MODA | TWA Terminal at JFK
Saarinen was born in Finland to an architect father and an artistic mother, who also built architectural models, and at the age of 12 won a matchstick design contest, the first of many, many awards he'd garner during his career.

One of the projects that I learned about at the exhibition was the Smithsonian Art Gallery, that was designed and accepted, but never built. It would have been built more than half a century ago at or very near where the current day Museum of the American Indian stands today on the National Mall. This was a very cool discovery, given that MODA is a Smithsonian Affiliate museum.

Eero Saarinen at MODA | Yale Hockey Rink (model)
Eero Saarinen at MODA | Yale Hockey Rink
Saarinen's brilliance ended much to early. He passed away at only 51 following surgery on a brain tumor. Given his influence on our culture in the 20th Century, I wonder what marvels he may have created should he have had another 40 years to innovate.

Eero Saarinen at MODA | Gateway Arch in St. Louis (model)
Eero Saarinen at MODA | Gateway Arch in St. Louis
I wish that when I visited St. Louis many years ago that I had had time to go up in the Gateway Arch, but I did get to enjoy it from a distance. The structure is incredibly beautiful and I just learned that it's 630 feet high, taller than the Washington Monument by a full 75 feet! Also, the structure is as wide at its "feet" as it is tall. Fascinating structure!

Unfortunately, Saarinen never got to see the Gateway Arch built. Construction began two years after he died and opened two years after that.

Eero Saarinen at MODA | The Tulip Armchair
Eero Saarinen at MODA | The Tulip Armchair
Saarinen was also a designer, with quite a bit of furniture and homes in his repitoire, including this 1955-1956 Tulip Armchair, noted for its similarity to the flower and a stemmed wine glass. Such elegance...and quite comfortable, too!

Eero Saarinen at MODA | Grasshopper Chair
Eero Saarinen at MODA | Grasshopper Chair
I believe we'd be hard pressed to find a Mid-Century Modern enthusiast who isn't a fan of Saarinen's work. And who wouldn't be a fan...look at the design of his Grasshopper Chair! I can't honestly say that I'd fill my home with Mid-Century Modern furnishings, but I can certainly admire how stunningly beautiful this piece is.

Eero Saarinen at MODA | TWA Terminal at JFK
Eero Saarinen at MODA | TWA Terminal at JFK
There's a LOT to take in at this exhibition, so allow plenty of time to explore. There's ample written material, photographs, models, furniture, two videos, and friendly staff there to answer questions you might have about the exhibition. 

Eero Saarinen: A Reputation for Innovation concludes at the end of June, but there's still some great programming coming up in association with the exhibition, and that will all culminate with a Mad Men closing party (mid-Century attire encouraged!). See you there!

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