Born in 1873 in Rantasalmi, Finland, Eliel Saarinen had a prolific career as a Finnish architect notable for his works of art nouveau inspired buildings and other modern furniture. Educated at the Helsinki University of Technology, he graduated to work as a partner at Geselius, Lindgren and Saarinen. The Finnish pavilion at the World Fair of 1900 was his first major architectural work earning him the stylistic name of National Romanticism.
His interest in design also extended to unexpected items such as the Finnish markka banknotes introduced in 1922.
His interest in architecture expanded to include city planning as well working for five years on the Munksnas-Haga project and then as a consultant to the city of Budapest. Receiving a first place award for his plan for Reval in 1913, he continued his city planning efforts designing a plan for the city of Helsinki from 1917-18.
Moving to the United States in 1923, he set his sights on a plan for the Chicago lake front. He first began to teach in 1924 at the University of Michigan and then in 1925 after designing the campus of the Cranbrook Educational Community, he began to teach there. Becoming president of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1932, it is here he would meet and influence modern furniture designers, Ray and Charles Eames.
Continuing on to teach at the University of Michigan’s architecture department, the school continues to honor him until today with a yearly lecture series as well as named the A. Alfred Taubmen College of Architecture and Urban Planning after him.
Passing on July 1, 1950, he left behind an extensive legacy of important architectural works as well as his son, Eero who would become a prominent architect championing the International style. Ironically, both son and father share the same birth date.
Spoken of less are his modern furniture designs. Primarily designed for his family’s needs, the Boyschool Chair (1928) was designed for the dining hall of the boysschool at Cranbrook Academy of Arts. Typical of his designs, it included fine wood and leather with strong, uncluttered lines.
The Side Chair designed 1929-30, was used for his Cranbrook home. Of solid maple wood with a foam padded seat, the fluid clarity of line and form belies its quietly understated elegance. With a round dining room table topped with several different types of wood veneers, it made an impressive design statement.
The Blue Suite was designed for his wife’s studio in Cranbrook that included a chair, table and sofa. With an art deco inspired blue he also designed the Hannes chair, the White Suite and the Saarinen House Arm Chair group for both home and studio.