Search results for "Eero Saarinen"
Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center will host 2016 Storefront for Art and Architecture auction
Getty grants support preservation of Eero Saarinen’s legacy
The traveling exhibition Eero Saarinen: A Reputation for Innovation, at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum through January 3, provides a persuasive case for reevaluating the work of this Finnish American master. Key Saarinen projects are displayed on hanging panels that combine drawings, photographs, and succinct texts. It’s a relief to encounter such an enlightening, unpretentious show. The exhibition could have used more models to go with the videos and sampling of the furniture Saarinen created for Knoll, including the Grasshopper and Womb chairs, and the Tulip chairs and tables that banished what he called “the slum of legs.”
Saarinen was an inventive genius, but World War II delayed his career as an architect and then he died relatively young at age 51, in 1961. During his decade of running an independent practice following his father’s death in 1950, Saarinen was incredibly productive, creating landmarks in several categories, including memorials, airports, embassies, colleges, sports halls, and corporate buildings. Plus he designed furniture. Business and government took full advantage of his talent, but his critics were often dismissive. He was a round peg in an era of square holes, veering from sharp angularity to sensuous curves, and shifting style with every job.
Today, that originality would be applauded, but modernist orthodoxy prevailed through the 1950s, and Saarinen was deemed frivolous, even irrelevant. Critics pounced on his few missteps (the ponderous U.S. Embassy in London, the clumsy medievalism of Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges at Yale University). His finest achievements—the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the TWA Terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, and Washington Dulles Airport’s main terminal in Virginia—were all completed after his death.
A revelation of the A+D show is the 1939 competition-winning design for the Smithsonian Gallery of Art, intended to complement, in its architecture and contemporary focus, John Russell Pope’s National Gallery of Art, then under construction on the north side of the Washington Mall. The 29-year-old architect, who had collaborated with his father, Eliel, on a series of smaller and unrealized projects, served as a lead designer for the first time.
But like his father’s second-place entry in the Chicago Tribune Tower competition, this work proved too radical for the client’s taste. For the hallowed ground of the nation’s capital, only a certain form of classicism seemed to be politically acceptable (a preference still evident in more recent controversies over the World War II Memorial and Frank Gehry’s design for an Eisenhower memorial).
Saarinen’s greatest work may be inside Dulles, an international travel hub, but it lies 30 miles outside the capital.
Saarinen grew up at Cranbrook Academy, which his father built and directed. There he forged a lasting friendship with Charles Eames, collaborating with him on many projects, including the 1940 Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Home Furnishings competition.
During World War II, the younger Saarinen won acclaim for his design work with the Office of Strategic Services. He later worked with Charles Eames and his wife Ray on Case Study House #9, whose first occupant was sponsor John Entenza. They also made a short film explaining the mobile lounges of Dulles Airport, helping to win approval for this novel system.
The exhibit leaves one to wonder what Saarinen—like Louis Kahn or any great architect who dies at the height of his creative powers—might have achieved had he lived a few decades more.
In 2006, the Eero Saarinen-designed Bell Telephone Laboratories was in imminent danger of demolition by would-be developer, Preferred Real Estate Investments of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, who planned to replace it with smaller office buildings and housing units on the site’s pastoral 472 acres. Now, two years later, Somerset Development, a Lakewood, New Jersey, firm, has signed a contract with Alcatel-Lucent, the property owner. If redevelopment proceeds as planned, the 1.9-million-square-foot, six-story building, named to Preservation New Jersey’s “10 Most Endangered Historic Sites” list in 2007, and recently declared eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, will be spared the wrecking ball.
In a statement made via email, Somerset president Ralph Zucker wrote that the firm does “not plan on demolishing any of the existing structures,” and is “approaching this with a preservationist attitude.” Somerset is still in the early planning stages, but feels the building lends itself to a mix of uses. Zucker, a proponent of New Urbanism, wrote that his vision is “a downtown-style, mixed-use environment created at [the] building.”
A three-day charrette, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects’ New Jersey chapter, Preservation NJ, the Docomomo-NY Tristate chapter, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, held in April, addressed problems surrounding the sustainable reuse and retention of the building, which was completed in 1962 and expanded in1985. Participants found the “building to be quite flexible,” said Michael Calafati, chair of the AIA-NJ chapter and a lead organizer of the event.
When asked about Somerset’s proposed redevelopment plan, Calafati cautioned that the devil is in the details. He questions whether Somerset’s plans to add buildings to the site will “maintain the monumentality of the Saarinen building,” an element charrette participants identified as central to the character of the building, along with its fully mirrored facade, its atria and corridors, and its relationship to the surrounding landscape, designed by Hideo Sasaki.
In its final report to the Holmdel Township Committee submitted on July 24, the Citizens Advisory Committee, a non-partisan group charged by the township to evaluate and make recommendations about the redevelopment of the property, cited several factors that could impact Somerset’s plans, the most important of which is the New Jersey Council of Affordable Housing’s (COAH) affordable housing requirement. “The COAH situation is very complex,” said Ralph Blumenthal, co-chair of the advisory committee. The third round COAH regulations were recently revised and are currently being challenged.
According to Blumenthal, before the rules were changed, if developers reused an existing building, the township bore no new obligation for additional affordable housing. If this changes, the “township’s affordable housing obligation due to the redevelopment” could increase “by hundreds of units,” which would change the finances of the Bell Labs project, and in all likelihood, influence its final form.
Eero Saarinen’s 1960 American embassy in London in posh Grosvenor Square is up for sale. An important, if not entirely successful example of Saarinen’s work, it has been deemed too vulnerable for government occupation. The Chancellery, as it is officially called because it houses only offices (the ambassadorial residence is elsewhere), is one of only three buildings that the Finnish-born American architect built in Europe, all of which are currently endangered.
Since April, according to The Sun, realtors from the Knight Frank agency have been showing potential buyers what was once considered, according to Architectural Record at the time, “the most important project’‘ in the State Department’s ambitious, postwar foreign building program. The asking price for the 133,300-square-foot Portland stone building is reported to be £90 million (approximately $180 million). On July 2, the London-based Twentieth Century Society, a modern preservation group, decided to go ahead with a proposal to designate the U.S. Chancellery a landmark.
Like Saarinen’s Oslo Embassy (1955–59) and dozens of other U.S. State Department buildings around the world, the London Chancellery is now considered difficult to defend from terrorist attacks. Only a few years ago—after 9/11—State Department officials thought it was safe enough because it has a sloping base that separates it from the street, and because the north end of Grosvenor Square where it sits could be sealed off by bollards. (In Oslo, the U.S. State Department had already voiced similar concerns and had discussed moving out of its Saarinen-designed embassy building that is not protected by local landmark laws. The architect’s only other European building, the Athens Airport, has been out of service since 2001.)
To what extent growing resentment of the American presence abroad is responsible for the change of heart in London—or if exponentially rising real estate values play a role—is anybody’s guess at this point. In 1955, when the State Department held an invited competition for the opportunity to design the London Embassy, it was a plum commission both because of the building’s prominent location but also due to the importance of American-British relations in the postwar period. Among the other contenders were Sert, Jackson and Zalewski; Edward Durell Stone; Wurster Bernardi & Emmons; Yamasaki Leinweber, and Hugh Stubbins. The brief called for a design “which would engender good will through distinguished architectural quality.” It explicitly ruled out stylistic copies, and said the building should “represent the United States at this time,” and asked for “the establishment of an appropriate visual relationship to the other three sides of Grosvenor Square” in scale and materials.
That was no small order, as Saarinen later explained, because he was designing a building to conform to an as-yet unbuilt masterplan for the square that called for a uniform cornice line, red brick walls, and Portland cement columns in a pseudo-Georgian style that would replace the extant, historic row houses in a variety of styles and motifs. There were other complications. The program was changed and enlarged after Saarinen won the competition. Gold-anodized aluminum trim was substituted for the bronze that Saarinen had specified, and the Portland stone that was supposed to darken was cleaned so that it looked like concrete.
The U.S. Embassy in London is not the most beloved or daring of Saarinen’s buildings, but it was far and away the most successful entry into the competition and it is the most prominent example of his work in Europe. More important, it speaks of a time when the United States was committed to building architecture abroad that was dignified, humane, and respectful.