I'm a fan a mid-century design, and a major figure in that period is architect/designer Eero Saarinen. The Museum of the City of New York has a comprehensive survey of Saarinen's work featuring models, films, photographs, documents (his high school yearbook and passport), sketches, drawings, and samples of his famous furniture designs. Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) was a celebrated and controversial architect who lent his unique vision and space-age, mid-century style to some unlikely clients like corporate headquarters, universities, and airport terminals.
Saarinen "sought to expand modernism's vocabulary beyond what he called 'the measly ABC'.... He also frequently moved away from simple, abstract compositions in favor of exuberant visual effects and historical references" utilizing "new materials, innovative construction techniques, and sculptural forms" (from eerosaarinen.net). Saarinen believed in a "total environment" and through collaborations with friends and associates, his works successfully "synthesiz[e] architecture, landscape, and interior design." Though Saarinen was surprisingly criticized for "inventing a new style for every job" (that's a bad thing?), "his diverse and sometimes unabashedly theatrical designs attracted powerful clients who played pivotal roles in trends that transformed the culture of the time."
Born in Finland in 1910, Saarinen's creative family emigrated to the United States in 1923. His father, Eliel, was a world-renowned architect, his mother, Louise, was a textile designer and sculptor, and his older sister, Eva-Lisa, was a designer and interior decorator. Eero graduated Baldwin High School in Birmingham, Michigan in 1929. He studied sculpture in Paris at the age of 19 and received his BFA in architecture in 3 years from Yale, graduating one year early in 1934. After graduation, Saarinen traveled the world, visiting architectural landmarks in Europe, Egypt, and Mexico. Early in his career, Saarinen worked alongside his father until the elder Saarinen passed away in 1950. One of their most successful projects was their "1939 winning submission for the prestigious Smithsonian Gallery of Art to be built on the Mall in Washington, D.C." which unfortunately was never realized. As if he wasn't busy enough, Saarinen also collaborated with designer Charles Eames and created some iconic pieces of furniture.
Saarinen understood "architecture’s value in creating a company’s image, often using new building technologies to help brand forward thinking corporations." Eero Saarinen and Associates based in Bloomfield, Hills, Michigan (which was rumored to be open 24 hours, 7 days a week) "designed the first mirror glass curtain wall and the world’s thinnest exterior wall panel. Saarinen also pioneered, and ultimately mastered, the development of a new office typology: the corporate campus. Occupying pristine rural settings, these business complexes reinvented the traditional country estate and the American college campus in terms of modern corporate programs, similarly evoking power and authority." General Motors Technical Center in Warren Michigan, completed in 1956 and composed of 25 buildings, was Saarinen’s first example of this model [IBM's Manufacturing and Training facility in Rochester, Minnesota (1956-58) and Deere and Company's Administrative Center in Moline, Illnois (1957-63) followed]. For college campuses, like Yale, Vassar, and Brandeis, Saarinen sought "to balance student comfort and privacy with amenities that encouraged social interaction."
Probably best known for works like the United States Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (or the St Louis Gateway Arch), JFK’s Trans World Airlines Terminal, Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport Terminal, and New York City's CBS Building (his only completed skyscraper at 38 stories), as well as his pedestal tables and chairs, Saarinen has undoubtedly created some of the 20th-century's most iconic structures. His designs have stood the test of time and are still breath-taking today. It's hard to imagine how progressive and extraordinary his works must have seemed back when they were first introduced. Eero Saarinen was a daring, visionary, brilliant talent. Learn much more at eerosaarinen.net (where I found most of the info for this post) and mcny.org. Ends soon on January 31st.