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Eliel Saarinen

[sah'ri nen] Finnish architect

Eliel Saarinen

Eliel Saarinen was born in Rantasalmi, near Varhaus, Finland, in 1873, the son of a clergyman. He had originally intended to be a painter, but after graduating from high school in 1893 he enrolled in the Department of Architecture at the Technical Institute in Helsinki instead, and took drawing courses at Helsinki University on the side. In 1896, a year before he graduated, he formed an architectural partnership with fellow students Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren.

The Saarinen-Gesellius-Lindgren partnership got its first commission the same year Saarinen graduated, for the Tallberg Apartments in Helsinki. Lindgren left the partnership in 1905, but Saarinen and Gesellius continued their partnership until 1907. Major projects worked on by Saarinen during this period included the Pohjola Insurance building in Helsinki (1899-1901), the Finnish Pavilion for the 1900 World's Fair in Paris (1900), and the Finnish National Museum in Helsinki (1901-1910). In 1904, Saarinen married Gesellius's sister, Louise, with whom he had two children -- a daughter, Eva-Lisa, and a son, Eero.

After the partnership ended, Saarinen expanded his practice to include city planning projects. He became internationally famous for his bold and simplified design for the Helsinki railroad station, which was completed in 1914. The plans he submitted for the design competition also included suggestions for the urban development surrounding the station.

Helsinki train station
Helsinki train station

In 1922, Saarinen took second prize in a design competition for the Chicago Tribune Tower. He and his family emigrated to the United States the following year.

In 1925, Saarinen was asked by George G. Booth to design buildings for the Cranbrook Educational Center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a project Booth intended to be similar to the Bauhaus idea in Germany. Saarinen began teaching at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1926, and taught at Bloomfield Hills (Cranbrook) from 1929 to his death. He also served as president of the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1932 to 1948.

Beginning in 1936 Saarinen was in partnership with his son, Eero. His best known works from the latter years of his life include the Tabernacle Church of Christ in Columbus, Indiana (1942), and the Christ Lutheran Church in Minneapolis (1949).

Eliel Saarinen died in Michigan in 1950, and is buried at Hvitträsk, Finland.

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This page was last updated on 05/26/2017.