Eero Saarinen was part of the second generation of modernist architects and designers, free to release functionalism from its theoretical restrictions adding to it exuberant visual effects fitting the post war economic rise of the Western world and America in particular.
Eero’s father Eliel already was a successful architect in Finland and should continue to be an influential member of the architecture and design community after immigrating to the US in 1923. His mother Louise was a textile designer and sculptor.
The Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, designed and co founded by Eliel Saarinen in 1927 involved the whole family and should influence the development of Eero Saarinen and many of his fellow contemporaries over the coming decades. It nurtured collaborations and instilled a comprehensive understanding of architecture, art and design in the students that was groundbreaking at the time.
But Eero Saarinen ventured out to other shores before returning to Cranbrook. The early 30s are dedicated to his studies; sculpting in Paris and architecture at Yale. A scholarship enabled him to travel to Europe and North Africa and to spend some time at his native place Finland before he took up a teaching assignment alongside his father at the academy. Father and son should work closely together right till Eliel Saarinen’s death in 1950.
In the late 30s Saarinen began to work on moulded plywood designs with Charles Eames who studied and worked at the academy as well. The teamwork led to a spectacular success with the winning designs for the "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition in 1940. They are the groundwork not only for Saarinen’s future furniture designs but an entire generation of designers making Organic Design a trademark.
From the time they met at Cranbrook, Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll should share a livelong friendship. It should evolve into an exceedingly fruitful professional relationship and yield some of the best-known design classics of the era.
The Womb chair is the first mass-produced fiberglass furniture and inspired others to take organic shapes forward like Arne Jacobsen did with the Egg chair. It was a successful “attempt to achieve psychological comfort by providing a great big cup-like shell into which you can curl up and pull up your legs (something that woman seem especially like to do)”. The chair demonstrates the designer’s concern with anatomy and how it relates to furniture. Many women since then agreed with him.
Versions of the first prototypes were made true to scale displayed in a dollhouse sized model room at Knoll.
Saarinen was determined to clean up under the table. And the chair. Literally. He found the traditional four legs for chair and table too cluttered, called it the “slum of legs”. The Tulip or Pedestal series of tables and chairs is the result creating a unit of base and seat, or base and tabletop respectively.
It took five years of developing work and research and still never fully satisfied Saarinen as he envisioned the entire chair or table made of plastic, which turned out to be unfeasible in production. Ultimately the solution was found with aluminum for the base and polyester for the rest. The tabletops were and still are available in different configurations and sizes from a side table up to a 2-meter wide oval dinning table.
After his father’s death continues to be an immensely successful architect with his own firm Eero Saarinen & Associates.
Saarinen’s architectural work is critically acclaimed and prominent till today. His diverse and often theatrical designs attracted potent clients; he called them “co-creators”, which turned many of his projects into trend setting monuments. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the main terminal of Dulles International Airport in Dallas, two colleges at Yale University and many more are ‘living’ proof for the timeless quality of Eero Saarinen’s designs.