Monday, June 16, 2008

Eero Saarinen's Legacy: More from the Man Who Gave Us the Arch

Posted By on Mon, Jun 16, 2008 at 2:49 PM

Ask any St. Louisan who designed the Gateway Arch and he or she might be able to tell you.

Then ask 'em to try to name something else Eero Saarinen designed.


We couldn't either. Saarinen is, in the words of the curators at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., "the least-known famous architect of the 20th century." The museum seeks to remedy that this summer with a retrospective of Saarinen's work.

Saarinen was responsible for the TWA terminal at JFK Airport in New York; Washington Dulles International Airport; corporate headquarters for John Deere, General Motors and IBM; and the two ugliest dorms at Yale University. (He may have been an architectural genius, but he failed to understand that, though college students like to spend a lot of the day sleeping, they are not actually moles and would prefer their common rooms someplace other than the basement.)

Saarinen also designed furniture. Like his good friends, St. Louisans Charles and Ray Eames, he liked making chairs. His "womb chair" and pedestal chair are still manufactured, 50 years after he designed them.

Sadly, Saarinen never got to see the Arch. He died of a brain tumor four years before its completion.

If you can't make it to D.C., Witold Rybczynski, the architecture critic at Slate magazine, has prepared a slide show that walks you through the man's life and work.

It's worth a look.

-Aimee Levitt

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