Posted on December 9, 2008 - by I ♥ Original
Birthplace: Kirkkonummi, Finland
Eero Saarinen was son to Eliel Saarinen, architect and Director of Art at the Cranbrook Academy, and Loja Saarinen, an accomplished textile artist. Continuing his parents’ legacy, Saarinen relocated to Paris to take fine art before returning to the U.S. to study architecture at Yale from 1930 to 1934. He built on this foundation by assisting Norman Bel Geddes in furniture design and working in architecture with his father in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During this period Saarinen began to develop a reputation as a pioneer in design, refusing to allow his ideas to be restricted by traditional convention.
His many collaborations with ex-Cranbrook colleague, Charles Eames, produced commissions as challenging as a plywood leg splint for the U.S. Army, and in 1940 they took first prize in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition. Their molded plywood chairs never saw mass production but their designs eventually evolved into Saarinen’s post-war furniture productions for Knoll Associates.
Saarinen established himself as an independent architect by winning a contest to design the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in 1947. His self-applied brief was “to create a monument that would have lasting significance and would be a landmark of our time.” This first significant accomplishment led him to open his own Ann Arbor practice in 1950, which marked the beginning of an unorthodox and masterly career in architecture and design. He has been the central subject of international exhibitions and is the designer behind landmarks such as the Kennedy International Airport TWA Terminal in New York and Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.
Saarinen’s furniture design was always subject to the same experimentation with materials and innovative techniques that he used in his architecture. In 1956 he raised the bar significantly when he produced an immediate classic with his ‘Tulip Chair’, which he saw as an exercise in the clarification of form. Reflecting on his project Saarinen said that “the underside of typical chairs and tables makes a confusing, uneasy world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs.” He overcame this problem of aesthetics with a simple solution, eliminating the chair legs altogether he used a single column stemming from a curved base, creating a highly elegant and sculptural design which also meets the practical requirements of modern dining. The shell of the ‘Tulip Chair’ is produced in fibreglass, which has the malleability and strength to accommodate the curves and twists of its design, and its lacquered paint provides a high quality finish with no ‘thinning’ in its curves.
The ‘Tulip Chair’ was featured in the 1956 Knoll Collection and since then it has been exhibited around the world. Along with his series of sculptural furniture, like the ’Womb Chair’, the ‘Tulip Chair’ has become a symbol of American post-war design and an iconic expression of modernism. To this today Knoll International still own the rights to produce all the key Saarinen furniture pieces under license. So if it isn’t made by Knoll, it’s a copy.