Born on the same day as his father, Eliel Saarinen, on August 20, 1910 in Finland, he is best known as a Finnish American architect and industrial designer considered as one of the masters of American 20th Century architecture. His father, an architect in his own right, is best known for his work in the art nouveau style.
They came to the United States in 1923 where he grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan with his father teaching at the Cranbook Academy of Art studying sculpture and furniture design. At the age of 19, he left to study sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére in Paris returning to attend the Yale School of Architecture.
Graduating in 1934, he returned to Finland for a year with a tour of Europe and North America the previous year, eventually to return once again to Michigan to work for his father and teach as the academy as well.
Joining the military service in 1940, he was assigned to draw illustrations for bomb disassembly manuals and provide designs for the Situation Room in the White House. He worked for the Office of Strategic Services until 1944. During this time he collaborated with his friend Charles Eames and designed the “Tulip Chair” which they received first prize in the competition, “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” in 1940 which was produced by the Knoll furniture company.
He continued to work with him designing the “Grasshopper” lounge chair and ottoman, the “Womb” chair and ottoman producing his most famous “Tulip” or Pedestal group in 1956.
Receiving early acclaim for his work the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois he went on to collaborate with his father to design the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan following in the rationalist Miesian style incorporating steel and glass with almost machine like precision. His attention to detail and insistence on being actively engaged in every level of his buildings from design through to construction is suggested by some as the reason for his early demise at the age of 51.
American corporations responded favorably to his ideas and commissioned him to design their headquarters; John Deere, IBM and CBS. Tightly rational exteriors where contrasted with dramatic sweeping staircases incorporating furniture that he had designed.
In 1948, he won first prize in the competition for the design of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. He designed the Gateway Arch known as the “Gateway to the West” signified by a simple, sweeping arching structural curve.
In 1950, he began to receive commissions for American universities, opening his own architectural firm, “Eero Saarinen and Associates” two years after his father’s death. He is best known for his work utilizing thin-shell concrete structures best shown in the Kresge Auditorium in MIT. Other great works by Saarinen include the TWA Flight center at John F. Kennedy International Airport and the main terminal of Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. using caternary curves in its structural design. This parabolic shape was used in the Ingalls Rink at Yale University which because of the shape of the suspension cables connected to a single concrete backbone, has been nicknamed “the whale”.
He also continued to be a part of the Cranbrook school, the place his father would first work at and then he, designing elements for the campus as well as designing leaded glass that are still a prominent feature among the buildings on the campus until today.
He died while undergoing surgery for a brain tumor who would be followed by his wife, Aline for the same condition. After his death, his architectural firm was renamed “Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo and Associates” who completed his projects including the St. Louis Arch.