“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context.” These words were spoken in the early 1900’s by a man named Eliel Saarinen and though he was speaking in reference to furniture design he could have easily been speaking about his son, Eero Saarinen. Eero lived his entire life considering the ‘larger context’ for his abilities and because of his determination to avoid mediocrity; his designs are still thriving among us today.
Eero Saarinen was born on August 20, 1910 in the small town of Hvitträsk in Finland. In 1923 at the age of twelve, Eero and his family immigrated to the United States. It was in this same year the young, but already talented Eero won first prize in a matchstick design contest showing his flair for creating.
His father Eliel, was a popular architect working in the art nouveau style of the early 20th century. He undoubtedly had an influence over his sons’ creative development as Eero studied under his father for some time. In 1929, Eero attended the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris and followed up these studies by attending the Yale school of architecture. His schooling finished in 1934 and he emerged onto the design and architecture scene with fresh ideas the world was bound to fall in love with.
In 1940, Eero was hired by the military to draw the complex illustrations for bomb disassembly instruction manuals. This work led to further illustration projects including designs for the situation room in the white house. However, Eero was destined to make a bigger impact in the design world than what the military would allow.
It was in the 1940’s that Eero began working with fellow designer Charles Eames who became his lifelong friend and business partner, even naming one of his sons after him. Together with Eames, Eero designed the famous “Tulip Chair” that won an award in 1940 at the ‘Organic design in home furnishings’ competition. This particular chair design was made even more popular when the style was used as the basis for the seating in the popular Star Trek television show in the late 1960’s. Eero went on to design many popular pieces of furniture that remain in vogue today.
As an architect, Eero Saarinen again made his stamp in design history. He created his own architecture firm in 1950 and through this firm he designed corporate headquarters for companies including General Motors, IBM, CBS and John Deere. His structures may have appeared conservative from the outside, but his passion for clean fresh design could be seen inside with sweeping staircases and gently curved ceilings and doorways.
Perhaps his most famous piece of architectural work can be seen in St. Louis. Arcing over the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial like a shiny silver rainbow you find the ‘gateway arch’ designed by Eero and still standing today. This would be one of Eero’s final triumphs as he died at the young age of 51 in 1961. Eero’s business partners completed the ‘Gateway Arch’ in honor of Eero. Though he never saw this project completed, it stands today to remind us of one of the architectural masters of the 20th century.