SAARINEN, Eliel
(b. 1873, Rantasalmi, d. 1950, Bloomfield Hills)

Biography

Finnish architect, urban planner and designer. From 1893 to 1897, Saarinen studied painting at Helsinki University and architecture at Helsinki Polytechnic. He later painted only as a hobby. In 1896, while still a student, he founded the architectural firm of Gesellius, Lindgren & Saarinen, known as GLS, together with Herman Geselius (1874-1916) and Armas Eliel Lindgren (1874-1929). Alongside public buildings, they also designed private villas, in which they realized the principle of total work of art (e.g. Suur-Merijoki manor house in Viipuri, 1903). For this reason, from the 1890s onwards, Saarinen also designed furniture, like his buildings drew upon Finnish tradition.

Saarinen's first buildings were strongly influenced by the Finnish Gothic Revival and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Their interiors, which frequently originated from the workshop of Gallen-Kallela, revealed predominantly Art Nouveau elements. In his later buildings, forms became more abstract. His most important work was Helsinki Central Station (designed 1904, built 1910-14).

Despite individual projects, however, the dominant theme of Saarinen's work in the decade from 1910 was urban planning. He attempted to solve the traffic and commercial space problems of the growing Helsinki by proposing two new roads for the city centre. Saarinen's 'total' approach to design is seen in these new city streets, for which he also designed buildings, including their interiors. The most comprehensive of Saarinen's urban visions was his plan for Munkkiniemi-Haaga (1910-15), a new suburb of Helsinki for 170,000 inhabitants, to be built with private funds.

In 1922, Saarinen took part in the American Chicago Tribune Competition and won second prize. His proposal, with a stepped-in profile and avoiding overt historical references, proved very popular, differing clearly from other entries representing the European avant-garde. Many American buildings of the 1920s reflected Saarinen's vision. In 1923, he emigrated to the United States, where he opened an office in Evanston, Illinois, transferring it to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1924.

The architecture of Saarinen's late period was marked by the arrival of his son Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) in the office in the late 1930s.