Eero Saarinen - the builder of an American Utopia
Son Eero will soon emerge from behind father Eliel's shadow, even in
By Hannu Pöppönen
Architect Eero Saarinen will finally emerge from his father Eliel's shadow even in Finland when the first extensive exhibition on his life's work is held here. The exhibition will open at the Kunsthalle Helsinki in October 2006.
The show will be based on the large archives from the office of Eero Saarinen, which were donated to Yale University by architect Kevin Roche a few years ago. Roche, the winner of the Pritzker Award, continued Saarinen's work and was his business partner.
After Eero Saarinen passed away in 1961, Roche finished several projects that the architect never had time to complete, such as the famous TWA terminal building at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Finland has waited a long time for a comprehensive look into Eero Saarinen's output. However, as an architect, he is internationally the best known Saarinen of the family.
"Eero Saarinen has moved to the top of the cabinet in modern architecture, but without original drawings, there was no final impulse like there was with Le Corbusier or Alvar Aalto", explains Severi Blomstedt, the head of the Museum of Finnish Architecture.
The archives include hundreds of rolls of Eero Saarinen's original drawings, letters, miniatures, and sketches and drafts that were made at the office. In addition, Saarinen's furniture, including the Tulip chair design, will be displayed in the exhibition.
After Helsinki, the exhibit will tour Europe and the United States, to wind up in the art gallery of Yale in 2010.
The exhibition is a part of a larger project that includes a researched publication on Eero Saarinen, a documentary on his life with comments from his old colleagues, as well as symposiums.
The project will be realised jointly by the Finnish Foundation for Visual Arts in New York, the Museum of Finnish Architecture, and Yale University. The research, which is being done by Finnish and American researchers, has been funded significantly by the American J. Paul Getty Trust as well as the Finnish Cultural Foundation.
The Museum of Finnish Architecture is responsible for assembling the Saarinen exhibit. It will be the final exhibit of the museum's 50th anniversary year in 2006.
Eero Saarinen has been the topic of hardly any research in Finland. He has again evoked plenty of interest in the U.S. over the past few years, explains Timo Tuomi, the head of the research group. He has been the topic of at least three doctoral dissertations. Other works have also been published, and there is more to come.
"Several universities have held seminars on Saarinen, and more will do so in the future."
The retro phenomenon has made his furniture design a current theme, but the time is ripe for reassessment in any case.
"Through reassessments of modernism, it has been noticed that the effects of Eero Saarinen's contributions are much more significant than was recognised in earlier decades. In the research on architecture, organic issues and changes in an architect's working methods are now in focus, and these are themes that can be interpreted through Saarinen's work."
Saarinen practiced organic architecture in the 1950s without the help of computers, with the TWA Terminal being one fine example of this. The building is now protected and will be re-opened as the passenger terminal for Jet Blue.
One of the reasons why Eero Saarinen has been slightly in the dark in Finland is that he designed few buildings in the country.
After graduating as an architect, he worked in the office of Jarl Eklund, designing the renovations and expansion to the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki. The new north wing of Saarinen's childhood home of Hvitträsk is also his handiwork; the original wing was destroyed in a fire.
In the United States, Saarinen is considered one of the realisers of American Utopia, a creator of the post-war modern America.
"In the same way that Frank Lloyd Wright was an interpreter of pioneer America, Eero Saarinen could be considered the corresponding interpreter of modern America", Blomstedt muses.
According to Blomstedt, the participation of Finnish researchers brings the necessary international dimension to Saarinen.
In his own time, Eero Saarinen was a star among architects. He was also prominently displayed in the American media.
However, Saarinen did not quite fit the mould of so-called international modernism, which had become the norm particularly in the U.S. For this reason, he has received relatively little attention to date in histories on modern architecture, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.
He did not create any particular style in his architecture, but approached each assignment in the manner it required.
"Saarinen had many corporations as clients, and he created for them buildings that reflected a dynamic corporate image. Their styles never resembled each other. By ordering from Saarinen, a corporation also built its image in a strong fashion, because he adapted the materials and shapes of each assignment to portray the company's particular branch", Tuomi observes.
The Museum of Finnish Architecture (Kasarmikatu 24, in Helsinki) is displaying drawings by Eero Saarinen until the end of November.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 9.10.2004
More on this subject:
BACKGROUND: A Finnish-born international architect
Eero Saarinen: Realizing American Utopia
TWA Terminal, JFK International Airport
Eero Saarinen on Greatbuildings.com
HANNU PÖPPÖNEN / Helsingin Sanomat