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Eero Saarinen - Biography, Architecture & Furniture

Jan Burek, Benjamin Truitt
  • Author
    Jan Burek

    Jan has taught history at the university level. He has recently obtained a PhD in contemporary European history.

  • Instructor
    Benjamin Truitt

    Benjamin has a Bachelors in philosophy and a Master's in humanities.

Learn all about Eero Saarinen. Understand Eero Saarinen's architectural style, see Saarinen's famous works, and examine his buildings and pieces of furniture. Updated: 05/08/2022

Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) was an influential American architect and designer belonging to the second generation of modernist architects. He was born in Kirkkonummi, Finland, but moved with his family to the United States in 1923, at the age of 13. His father, Eliel Saarinen, was one of the foremost Finnish architects who, after moving to the United States, continued his architectural career and became a lecturer at the University of Michigan. In 1925, Eliel Saarinen was commissioned to design a complex of school buildings which would later become Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 1932, he became the Academy president. Eero Saarinen's mother, Loja Saarinen (née Louise Gesellius), was a famous weaver and sculptor. She would also find employment at Cranbrook Academy and became the head of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design.

Unsurprisingly, Eero Saarinen began his education at Cranbrook Academy. In 1929, however, he enrolled in the Academie de la Grand Chaumière in Paris, France and was trained as a sculptor. In 1931, he returned to the United States and studied architecture at Yale University. A fellowship he received from Yale University allowed him to travel around Europe in the years 1934-1935. He returned to the United States in 1936 after spending an extra year working in Helsinki, Finland with a Finnish architect Jarl Eklun. The same year he was employed by the Flint Institute of Research and Planning in Flint, Michigan where he was tasked with conducting research on urban planning. In 1938, he joined his father's architectural firm.

Eero Saarinen 1910-1961

Architect Eero Saarinen
Eero Saarinen

''The purpose of architecture is to shelter and enhance man's life on earth and to fulfill his belief in the nobility of his existence.'' - Eero Saarinen

While growing up, Eero Saarinen and his sister Pipsan would lie under their father's large drafting table in the middle of the living room and create imaginary worlds with pen and paper. They grew up surrounded by blueprints, scales, drafting tables and creative people. Thus, we might say that Eero Saarinen was destined to be an architect.

Eero Saarinen Architecture

Eero Saarinen's architecture was initially under the overwhelming influence of his father. After coming to the United States his father became a proponent of the austere functionalism of the International Style (in Finland he designed in a romantic style and his first buildings in the United States are also realized in this style). He followed the mantra of the first generation of modernist architects: form follows function. The joint projects of the Saarinens were, therefore, prime examples of the International Style and helped popularize it in the United States. The Saarinens were pioneers in the design and use of curtain walls, nonbearing walls of glass in steel frames, on a large scale.

Only in the last years of his father's life, did Eero Saarinen begin developing his own language of architecture. He worked mainly with the materials that were typical for the International Style his father adhered to such as steel, concrete, brick, and glass. In his designs, however, Eero Saarinen allowed for more artistic expression and skillfully used common materials to create novel visual effects. Their form did not necessarily follow function. In particular, the roofs of his buildings took on sculptural shapes which was made possible by the extensive use of reinforced concrete. Saarinen's later projects are often described as neo-futurist and he is sometimes regarded as one of the precursors of this style.


The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

Photograph of the Gateway Arch

Eero Saarinen's Buildings

The most famous Eero Saarinen works designed with his father include:

  • Crow Island School in Winnetka (1930), Illinois
  • First Christian Church (1942) in Columbus, Indiana
  • Irwin Union Bank and Trust (1954) in Columbus, Indiana

The above-mentioned projects were designed in the International Style. They have flat roofs and large windows which allow for a lot of sunshine to enter the buildings' interiors.

Among Eero Saarinen's later projects that he designed alone are:

  • Kresge Auditorium and chapel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1955) in Cambridge Massachusetts
  • Trans World Airlines (TWA) terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport (1956-62) in New York City
  • Ingalls Hockey Rink at Yale University (1958) in New Haven, Connecticut
  • Dulles International Airport (1962)
  • The Gateway Arch (1965) in St. Louis, Missouri

Later Eero Saarinen buildings took sculptural forms. They were particularly pronounced in the design of the terminal at the John F. Kennedy International Airport and the Ingalls Hockey Rink where reinforced concrete was used to create distinct, curvilinear rooftops.


Dulles International Airport

Photograph of the Dulles Airport

Eero Saarinen's Furniture

Eero Saarinen was not only a prominent architect but also an avid furniture designer. His furniture designs - mainly of chairs - similarly to his buildings, took sculptural rounded forms. He used fiberglass, aluminum, and plastic to achieve these effects. Eero Saarinen's famous works include:

Professional Career

Eero Saarinen worked with his father for many years (1938 to 1950) and owes a lot of his initial knowledge about architecture to his upbringing, but he didn't stay in his father's shadow for long. Saarinen, upon his father's death, opened his own architecture firm in 1950 in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and began to make a name for himself in both the architecture and furniture realms as a Neo-Futuristic designer, meaning that his works focused on creating an idealistic vision of the future.

Saarinen and his colleagues were considered to be part of the second generation of the modern movement within architecture that gave new meaning to the modernist mantra that ''form follows function.'' The focus of their design practice was on utilizing new construction techniques, as well as creating architecture that contained variety and visual effect. By the time of his death, Saarinen did not have a distinct architectural style, despite helping to bring modern architecture to mainstream America. Saarinen's acclaim as an architect made him a prominent media figure in many publications, and he was proclaimed one of the greatest architects of his time.

Material Use

The TWA Flight Center designed by Eero Saarinen under construction in 1962
TWA Flight Center at JFK by Eero Saarinen

Saarinen and his team of architects designed mostly with steel, glass and concrete. He enjoyed the concept of exposing the structure of the building with steel. While designing for the John Deere headquarters in Moline, Illinois, the use of steel is obvious and intended to actually blend with nature by imitating trees.

The use of concrete is most notable in the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, with large swooping concrete roofs, utilizing concrete in a new and advanced way.

Glass was used in all of his works in combination with steel and concrete.

Most Notable Architecture Designs

Saarinen's most recognized designs include:

  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (including the Gateway Arch) in St. Louis, Missouri (1935)
  • The Miller House in Columbus, Indiana (1953)
  • David S. Ingalls Skating Rink for Yale University (1958)
  • Bell Labs Holmdel Complex in Holmdel Township, New Jersey (1962)
  • The TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York (1962)

Eero Saarinen designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.
Eero Saarinen designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri

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Additional Info

Eero Saarinen 1910-1961

Architect Eero Saarinen
Eero Saarinen

''The purpose of architecture is to shelter and enhance man's life on earth and to fulfill his belief in the nobility of his existence.'' - Eero Saarinen

While growing up, Eero Saarinen and his sister Pipsan would lie under their father's large drafting table in the middle of the living room and create imaginary worlds with pen and paper. They grew up surrounded by blueprints, scales, drafting tables and creative people. Thus, we might say that Eero Saarinen was destined to be an architect.

Professional Career

Eero Saarinen worked with his father for many years (1938 to 1950) and owes a lot of his initial knowledge about architecture to his upbringing, but he didn't stay in his father's shadow for long. Saarinen, upon his father's death, opened his own architecture firm in 1950 in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and began to make a name for himself in both the architecture and furniture realms as a Neo-Futuristic designer, meaning that his works focused on creating an idealistic vision of the future.

Saarinen and his colleagues were considered to be part of the second generation of the modern movement within architecture that gave new meaning to the modernist mantra that ''form follows function.'' The focus of their design practice was on utilizing new construction techniques, as well as creating architecture that contained variety and visual effect. By the time of his death, Saarinen did not have a distinct architectural style, despite helping to bring modern architecture to mainstream America. Saarinen's acclaim as an architect made him a prominent media figure in many publications, and he was proclaimed one of the greatest architects of his time.

Material Use

The TWA Flight Center designed by Eero Saarinen under construction in 1962
TWA Flight Center at JFK by Eero Saarinen

Saarinen and his team of architects designed mostly with steel, glass and concrete. He enjoyed the concept of exposing the structure of the building with steel. While designing for the John Deere headquarters in Moline, Illinois, the use of steel is obvious and intended to actually blend with nature by imitating trees.

The use of concrete is most notable in the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, with large swooping concrete roofs, utilizing concrete in a new and advanced way.

Glass was used in all of his works in combination with steel and concrete.

Most Notable Architecture Designs

Saarinen's most recognized designs include:

  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (including the Gateway Arch) in St. Louis, Missouri (1935)
  • The Miller House in Columbus, Indiana (1953)
  • David S. Ingalls Skating Rink for Yale University (1958)
  • Bell Labs Holmdel Complex in Holmdel Township, New Jersey (1962)
  • The TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York (1962)

Eero Saarinen designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.
Eero Saarinen designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Eero Saarinen known for?

Eero Saarinen was a Finnish-born American architect. He is possibly best-known for his design of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Saarinen was also a furniture designer and designed such pieces as the Tulip Chair.

What is Eero Saarinen style of architecture?

We may distinguish two periods in Eero Saarinen's career as an architect. In the first period, his designs were in the International Style. During the second period, his architecture may be described as neo-futurist.

What materials did Eero Saarinen use?

Eero Saarinen used materials typical for modernist architecture such as glass, steel, and concrete. He is known for his use and development of curtain walls.

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