In 1961, Saarinen died at 51 from a brain tumor.
At the time he had 10 major buildings under construction, which have since been completed.Now, the Finnish architect’s story and work is on display at the Museum of Design Atlanta in Midtown at the exhibit “Eero Saarinen: A Reputation for Innovation.”
Exhibit Curator Mina Marafet, originally from Iran, said her infatuation with Saarinen’s work grew when she arrived in the U.S. for the first time, at the TWA terminal.
“It was an interesting experience because TWA actually lost my luggage,” she said. “They never found it. … I was so excited about seeing the building, … I still continued having a great interest in it.”
Then, Marafet said she saw the auditorium chapel Saarinen designed for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
“I was quite taken by the beautiful chapel. I’m not a very religious person, but it is a very spiritually uplifting place,” she said.
Marafet said the idea for the exhibit came to life when she was working as a curator at the Smithsonian in Washington. She was conducting research on a building Saarinen designed but was never built.
“I actually found the original drawings everyone thought had been destroyed,” said Marafet, now an architectural historian and professor at Georgetown University in Washington. “Now they belong to the archives of the Smithsonian.”
Although other exhibits featured Saarinen’s work, she said she wanted to feature projects others had not touched on.
“It includes things that no one else has ever seen,” Marafet said.
She said her research led her to believe the majority of Saarinen’s furniture designs were inspired by his time in the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor to the CIA.
“I think in many ways this exhibit is going against the tide,” Marafet said. “His architecture represents hopefulness of the 20th century, of the right choices, materials, technology and the right kind of attention to people’s needs.”
She said his work is hard to describe stylistically because it covers a wide range, from formal to expressionistic design.
However, Saarinen applied six principles to his work, Marafet said, which are featured in the exhibit: structure, function, time appropriate, integration of environment, expression of meaning and unity of design. She said exhibit visitors will “see the talent of a very creative genius who knew how to develop ideas that were out of the box.”
In addition to his modern architecture, Saarinen also introduced modern products like the tulip chair and the womb chair.
“I’m excited because Saarinen was one of the first modernists in terms of architects and other kinds of design working in the U.S.,” said Laura Flusche, the museum’s executive director.
She said the exhibit displays the shift for classical to modern architecture, stripping away buildings’ “more decorative” aspects, leaving more room for function.
“[The exhibit] offers an opportunity to really learn about his design process and to learn what he was thinking about and the facts he was incorporating into his designs,” Flusche said.
If you go:
o What: “Eero Saarinen: A Reputation for Innovation”
o When: now through June 30o Where: Museum of Design Atlanta, 1315 Peachtree St., Midtown
o Tickets: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, military and educators, $5 for students
o Information: www.museumofdesign.org