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TWA Terminal, New York, circa 1962.
Photographer: Balthazar Korab (image via
MCNY)

 

       

Eero Saarinen

 
 

...from birds to tulips....

   

 

Last Call: If you have the time, a cold January weekend is the perfect time to stroll up Museum Mile to the Museum of the City of New York and take in Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, a retrospective of the Finnish-American architect’s work which runs through January 31.  Unorthodox, eclectic, original, futuristic—Saarinen, who moved to America with his family at the age of 13, designed some of the most distinctively American buildings and monuments and furniture of his time—the TWA terminal, the St. Louis Arch, Dulles terminal, the Tulip Chair. And then there were the corporate commissions: General Motors, IBM, the CBS skyscraper on 52nd Street (Black Rock to New Yorkers!).  Nicolai Ouroussoff writing in the New York Times says: “…Saarinen came to prominence just as the United States was emerging as a superpower and searching for ways to express its newfound economic prosperity."

 

 

The TWA Terminal at JFK Airport—one of the most beautiful buildings in New York—and once, an exhilarating entry point into America (now a historical landmark, it is under renovation, and parts of the building are used by Jet Blue).  Sinuously lovely concrete curves that embody movement and transition manage to capture the exhilaration of flight itself.  The sculptural form still expressing the anticipation and excitement that air travel represented when it was built in 1956.  With a roof that is all beautiful flex of wings, the design is futuristic, all drama (form here following not function, but the impulse to flight) yet technologically advanced – Saarinen was a pioneer in the use of thin concrete and steel shell technology.  The monumental vaulted central structure, the hieratic sense of inner space created by its multilevel spaces, curved staircases, and bridges—some beautiful bird about to lift off into the blue skies…. The St. Louis Gateway Arch, which is so much a part of the national vocabulary of monuments that one never stops to think about it, celebrates the American pioneer spirit and Westward expansion.  Stainless steel with reinforced concrete, equilateral triangles in cross section that tapers upwards in an inverted catenary curve, and here as well, the sense of movement, upward, forward, westward.

 

 

 

The chairs and tables that defined the look of an era -- the Tulip Chair (part of the Pedestal series that came from his desire to clean up the forest of legs!) that he designed for Knoll) and made famous by its use on Star Trek.

 

Saarinen‘s bold designs were welcomed during his lifetime by both the public and corporate America, perhaps because they saw in his work a sense of the mobility that expressed their lives at that time—within the architectural community he was often out of favor for his eclecticism.  As it turns out, some 40 years after his passing, the future does indeed look surprisingly like Eero Saarinen imagined it….and the TWA terminal is still the most beautiful thing at JFK—somehow managing to be both nostalgic and futuristic at the same time!

 

See: Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, Museum of the City of New York

 

Buy: Tulip Chair

 

Tags: new york buildings

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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