Eero Saarinen was born in Finland in 1910 and emigrated to the USA with his family when he was 13 years old. His mother Loja was a sculptor and textile designer, while his father Eliel was a highly regarded architect who became one of the principle lecturers at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Saarinen studied sculpture in Paris then architecture at Yale University, completing his degree in 1934 and joining his father’s architecture practice soon after. He went on to design such architectural icons as the St Louis Gateway Arch in Missouri, the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport and the CBS Building in New York.
Saarinen formed a friendship with Charles Eames while Eames was lecturing at Cranbrook. By 1940 they had collaborated on their first joint design, which won two first prizes at the New York Museum of Modern Art’s ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’ competition. The pair went on to create two Case Study houses together, one of which was for the founder of the Case Study program and publisher of avante-garde magazine Arts & Architecture, John Entenza.
While Saarinen’s furniture output was relatively small, several of his designs, such as the Womb and Tulip chairs, have been in constant production since their launch. The Tulip series (1955) was a unique expression of an architectural mind. Of the reduction of chair and table legs to a single central pedestal, Saarinen said, “I wanted to clear up the slum of legs.”
He served on the jury for the Sydney Opera House commission in 1957 and was involved in the selection of the winning design by Jørn Utzon.
Eero Saarinen’s life was cut short by a brain tumour in 1961, at the age of 51.
While sculptural shapes and curves were Saarinen’s signature, in architecture he oscillated from the angular International style found in the John Deere World Headquarters to the sweeping formed concrete wings of the TWA Flight Center and the exuberant expressionism of St Louis’ Gateway Arch.
Saarinen’s furniture incorporated the organic feel of the time with curved shapes that folded around themselves in a soft and sensuous manner.
He was interested in new materials, and worked extensively with Charles Eames in exploring the possibilities of moulded plywood.
Later, he became one of the earliest designers to use fibreglass.
Best known for
The Tulip series of tables and chairs (pictured) has been in constant production since the 1950s and has become one of the defining modernist furniture designs.
The Model 70 chair became known as the Womb chair due to its generous proportions and enveloping form. The informality of the various seating positions offered by the chair was a great departure from what had gone before.
Saarinen commented that “people sit differently today than they did in the Victorian era”.
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