One of the most influential figures in post-World War II architecture was the Finnish-born Eero Saarinen, whose neo-futuristic vision created some of the most striking design accomplishments of the 20th century. Peter Rosen’s documentary, which aired on PBS’ American Masters, offers a satisfactory oversight of Saarinen’s career.
The son of the acclaimed architect Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen first gained notability in 1948 when he won the competition to create the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis with a concept that became known as the Gateway Arch. Saarinen’s designs for the TWA Flight Center at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and the main terminal at Washington’s Dulles International Airport gave major transportation hubs a boldly modern appeal, while his General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich., turned the corporate campus into a work of intelligent art. Saarinen’s interior design concepts, most notably the “tulip chair,” offered an imaginative spin on office and home décor.
Eric Saarinen, the film’s co-producer and director of photography, serves as an on-screen presence by visiting many of his father’s famous buildings. But the younger Saarinen is something of a dull personality, and he appears uncomfortable plumbing the sour aspects of his father’s life – Saarinen divorced Eric’s mother, sculptor Lilian Swann, and mostly ignored Eric and his sister in favor of the vivacious writer Aline Bernstein, whose tireless promotion of Saarinen’s projects made him a household name. The film’s surplus of drone-enabled aerial shots of Saarinen’s work also becomes a bit heavy-handed.
Nonetheless, this is a decent overview of Saarinen’s achievements and a fine introduction for those unfamiliar with his impact on architecture.