Though he did not arrive in the United States until he was 13, and died at the age of 51, Finnish immigrant Saarinen was a prolific architect who helped shape the American built environment through his designs for national memorials, airport terminals, and corporate campuses.
Saarinen, whose father was architect Eliel Saarinen, studied sculpture in Paris and graduated from the Yale School of Architecture in 1934. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1940 and was recruited to the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA), where he completed designs for the Situation Room in the White House and manuals for disarming enemy bombs. Many of his materials explorations for the government would be incorporated into later design work, including the use of Cor-ten steel and thin-shell construction.
A leading Modernist in post-War America, Saarinen’s designs for Washington Dulles International Airport, the Miller House, and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Gateway Arch) demonstrate a diverse, collaborative portfolio. Well-known for adapting to his clients’ needs, Saarinen was also actively interested in the integration of landscape and architecture and was known for strong collaborations, particularly with Dan Kiley. International projects including U.S. embassies in Oslo and London and the Ellinikon International Airport in Athens situated American Modernism abroad. His innovative work, which synthesized architecture, interior design, and landscape ranged from monumentalized structure to popular Modernist furniture. Saarinen died while undergoing an operation for a brain tumor. He was posthumously awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 1962.