001r-007v Saarinen Saarinen and Swanson office reunion notes
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12-page typewritten document with annotations on back page.
Typewritten text (sheet 1, recto):
Eliel Saarinen - Eero Saarinen - J. Robert F. Swanson
Architectural Ofﬁces Reunion
August 11-13, 1995
The weekend was planned with both structured lectures and general discussion time. During each, a microphone was passed around for people to share anecdotes and stories. For convenience sake, Eliel and Eero Saarinen will be referred to by ﬁrst names. lnitials are used for other participants. Please forgive disjointed portions that result from the casual nature of the event and/or the ineptitude of the note taker! The note taker would also appreciate learning of any errors that exist in this narrative.
Conference Introduction - Dr. Lillian Bauder, President, Cranbrook Educational Community
Cranbrook values place. “We believe we are informed by the built form.” Cranbrook is continuing a search for new form with several new buildings. She explained that Bob Swanson, son of J. Robert F. Swanson, designed deSalle Auditorium, location of the conference. (The grill work and light ﬁxtures are very similar to First Christian Church screen and ﬁxtures.)
Dr. Bauder read several letters from Saarinen staff expressing regret that they could not attend. Many anecdotes were recalled in the correspondence, including a discussion of many games of touch football. One letter described the wedding reception of a staff member. During the reception, staff(with Eero as ring-leader) got into the bedroom that was to be used by the couple for their wedding night and sawed the legs of the bed until they were nearly in two pieces. After the couple retired for the night, the group gathered outside the bedroom window to wait. The crash was followed by hoots and cheers and the wedding reception resumed with full force.
Susana Torre, Director, Cranbrook Academy of Art
Now is the moment to make sense out of the Saarinen history. The profession of architecture is now in a crisis of redeﬁnition. Saarinen may help to clarify the confusion.
Mark Coir, Director, Cranbrook Archives
History of the Saarinen/Swanson Ofﬁces
Eliel started his practice in Finland in 1897. His ﬁrm had a studio on the grounds of his home that became a mecca for Scandinavian architects in the ﬁrst decade of the 20th century. He began to look at urban planning.
WWI brought economic ruin to Eliel. Loja had done all of his models. He came to this country for the Tribune competition after Loja’s dream about Chicago. In the dream, a jewel was discovered in Chicago. Eliel was here 9-10 months and had no real success. He was preparing to return to Finland when he got the call from George Booth asking him to come to Cranbrook.
Typewritten text (sheet 1, verso):
There was an architectural ﬁrm of Swanson and Booth (the son of George Booth). Swanson left and Eliel took over. The dining hall at Cranbrook was the ﬁrst interior design Eliel did in the US. He designed the entire facility. This approach of designing the entire facility was unusual and would become a trademark of Eliel.
At some point(l missed the date), Eliel, Swanson and Eero joined together in a ﬁrm. In 1947, Eliel, Swanson and Eero split and the ofﬁce projects were divided up. Swanson had married Eliel and Loja’s daughter, Pipsan (called Pixie). Swanson and Pipsan worked together. They did many interior designs and much institutional work. Pipsan was known for her talent with textiles.
Eero took over the General Motors project after Eliel's death. Dulles Airport was on a postage stamp.
During the break, the group gathered around large tables ﬁlled with drawings, photos, and cartoons(mostly by Claude DeForest) that the group brought with them. Among the drawings was a pencil sketch of Irwin Union Bank by Charles Bassett.
The cartoons included:
- Eero’s All Night Drive-ln - No Vacancy (allusion to the many all-nighters that were common in the ﬁrm)
- A man with curved suitcases checking in at the TWA counter. A man with square suitcases was told “Go ﬂy American!"
- Eero’s 1956 Christmas card of a bird's eye view of the entire studio working in their ofﬁces
- Going away party cartoon for Nobuo Hozumi (“Noby”) - “Noby's Souvenirs" stand included do-it-yourself London Embassy kits, lucky charm St. Louis Arches, Eero's pipes
- Going away party cartoon for Glen Paulsen - The eagle on top of the London Embassy ﬂying away with the building
- Chicago Law School - An architect measuring the building against his thumb says to a guy with a hammer "Lower it about four feet"
- A pastry chef with an icing sleeve decorates the top of a building
- There were 8 sketches on one sheet of paper of an architect experimenting with a building. He adds parts to the roof, takes them away, measures it against his thumb. The next to the last sketch shows him looking in the phone book under "pyrotechnics." ln the last sketch, he blows up the building.
There were numerous sketches about the IBM building - some were obviously inside jokes that I didn’t understand. One featured several people sitting and staring with “thimk” written above their heads.
Typewritten text (sheet 2, recto):
The photos were mostly small personal snap shots. There was one of Kevin Roche sitting on top of the rather large TWA terminal model in his sock feet.
“The Saarinen Years at the Cranbrook Academy of Art - Eliel Saarinen, Bob Swanson, and Eero Saarinen Partnerships” Mark Coir, moderator
The Saarinens and Swanson produced a body of work in many mediums. What were their strengths and how did they complement each other?
You can’t box Eliel into a neat little description. EB was at Cranbrook from 1934- 36. GM asked Eliel to come to Flint, Ml to work on urban planning. Eliel wasn't interested and sent EB there instead. He spent 3 years in Flint doing trafﬁc and land use surveys, among other things. He got called a "communist" by the City Council, but still won a Chamber of Commerce award.
The physical relationship between the master and students was marvelous. Eliel would come into the studio and sit with the drafting students. ln the evening there were invited to his house. The students sat around him in a particular conﬁguration because of the padded benches in the room. EB has always created the same conﬁguration in any house he has ever lived in because he considers the shape so sacred - he learned the most about life during those times. Eliel never gave a lecture or instructed the students. EB can’t ﬁgure out how he learned everything from him. Eliel didn’t teach him, but "illumed” him.
He came to Cranbrook in 1948. Eliel would respond to the "kestions" that students would ask him: “l’m not going to tell you now. Think about it for two weeks and then we’ll talk.” MW was working on a model and asked what color to make it. Eliel replied “the color of the earth from 20,000 feet in the air in the springtime.” Eliel told him to make 40 samples of different blue/green shades. MW made the samples and spent two weeks discussing the correct choice with other students. Eliel walked in and immediately picked the color they had chosen.
If a guest was present, Eliel would walk straight to them and welcome them. Before he left the studio he would always say good-bye to the person. When Eliel went on vacation, he would tell each student good-bye. When he returned, he would say "hello" to each and ask to see a “bird's eye view” of their projects.
One day Eliel saw students sneaking in beer for a party. He clapped his hands and called the students together. He said, “Americans are crazy. You make your risers too high, your salad plates too small. You make your drinks too strong and then add ice to water them down. You say, ‘here’s to you,’ and then drink the beverage yourself. You eat a light meal in the middle of the day, a
Typewritten text (sheet 2, verso):
heavy meal at night and then fall asleep. In the evening, we have an aperitif, a light meal, and "so on."
Being at Cranbrook was an intense sensual experience. In 1934, we called him “Mr. Saarinen.” In 1939, Harry Weese said that the destruction of proper principles of architecture shifted and that students began to call him "Pappy." EB was working as a draftsman in Shanghai, China. EB wrote Eliel that "architecture functions as a ﬂow of sensation over time, not as a series of discreet objects.” Eliel gave him a fellowship. Based upon the letter EB wrote, Eliel sent him to Flint, Ml.
Eliel only accepted 10 students/year. MW was asked to write a letter saying what he wanted to do. If it was acceptable, Eliel said he could study at Cranbrook. MW wanted to investigate the effect of strip mining in Ohio, but was forced out of the project by coal companies.
He didn’t have to show drawings to be accepted by Eliel. Eliel was more interested in what MW wanted to do, than in what he had done. MW decided that he didn’t want to work for Eero because there were too many stories of ofﬁce politics. He kept putting Eero off, but ﬁnally had an interview. He wasn’t offered as much money as others in Eero’s office because he wasn’t married. MW later discovered that Eliel had asked Eero to hire MW to work on the Stevens College Chapel.
Eliel would only address one project each day in the studio. The architects would select problems with each project before Eliel's arrival. When he arrived in the studio, without knowing the selected issues, he would always seem to bring up the problem that was bothering them.
He started at Cranbrook in 1943. He was Japanese-American from San Francisco. As a result of WWII, Washington University in St. Louis was one of the few (maybe only) schools that would accept him because of his heritage. His father's assets had been frozen and he had no money. Cranbrook gave him a full scholarship when he was 23.
After his arrival at Cranbrook, GM assumed that Eliel would assign him a project. For 3-4 days he just sat at his desk or went swimming. On his way swimming one day, he ran into Eliel. GM decided he should make an appointment to see Eliel. Eliel asked him what he wanted to study. GM had no idea, but replied he wanted to work on schools since he knew there would be more children after the war. Eliel gave him several books to read. Eventually GM studied planning with Eliel. He later worked in EIieI’s ofﬁce in planning.
Typewritten text (sheet 3, recto):
GM remembers the competitions and parties. Eliel was very good at analyzing juries and what they would expect. Students entered competitions in teams. There was no construction going on during the WWII, so experience could be gained by entering the competitions.
About this time, Gropius raided the design staff.
GM said you had to be on guard when Eliel was critiquing other students’ work. Eliel would say that the student was in love with his problem. GM said he always felt defensive when Eliel criticized him, but that he felt Eliel always “hit the nail on the head" when looking at another student’s work!
GM remembered one evening when Frank Lloyd Wright was visiting. Wright had the students gathered around him and Eliel was at the back of the room. FLWs comments about Eliel grew more caustic. Eliel ﬁnally said “he’s always frank, but he's not always right." (Merle Westlake announced that Eliel said GM’s thesis was the best he had ever seen and that all the students should read it. GM. never knew this.)
Eliel encouraged the students to collaborate on competitions. Every year a team won something. When students got to Cranbrook, they had no direction or guidance. They had to think for themselves. This was hard since many had just come out of the military. Eliel said he was more interested that the students learn about planning - when they arrived at Cranbrook they should already know how to design a building. Eliel would address the group as “fellow students.”
Freedom was big. This wasn’t typical of other graduate schools.
Eliel would take a marble table and put a drop of water in the center. He would place his thumb on the water and droplets would go out from there. He said that this was what planning was about. Architecture is concerned with the rhythmic relationship between mass and space - it doesn’t stop at the lot line.
Eliel also spoke about the force of creation and the urge of the seed to become larger and greater. In order for growth, nutrients would have to go up through the plant.
Eliel had a concept of totality - that everything would go on and on.
GB’s ﬁrst day in Eero’s ofﬁce had him totally ﬂustered. The receptionist was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He saw the most beautiful renderings in color - unlike those he did in Europe - when he was taken into his ﬁrst job meeting. He was asked if he had met “Pappy." He had no idea what this meant. John Dinkeloo said that he would let “Pappy" hold the drawings during the job meeting - he placed the urn holding Eliel’s ashes on the drawings.
Typewritten text (sheet 3, verso):
He built the models. He was with the office longer than anyone else, working for all 3 ﬁrms. Eliel would come through at 10:30 every morning. Though Eliel only stayed a short time in the ofﬁce each day, he knew everything that was going on. Eliel would always have an answer to a problem, Eero had to try things before he could give an answer.
JS had a chance to work with Frank Lloyd Wright. Eliel told him that maybe it would be the right thing to do. Eliel said that if JS would stay, he would look after him. If JS had a problem about staying with the ﬁrm too long, he would provide him with an unlimited leave of absence. JS's voice cracked as he said, "l still believe I’m working for him."
It is a great tragedy that architecture didn’t follow Eliel Saarinen when it had the choice.
There was general discussion about Eero’s ability to write backwards. He could also write with both hands at the same time. Since Leonardo da Vinci could write backwards, Loja said that she and the governess taught Eero the same skill.
Someone remembered watching Eero draw with both hands at the same time and creating a vanishing point on both the right and left of the paper. When he folded the paper, the two drawings and vanishing points matched exactly.
Doris Smith(Jim’s sister)
She worked with Eliel, Bob Swanson and Pipsan. DS did drawings of early glassware that Pipsan designed. Pipsan always wanted many choices to review.
Bob Swanson(son of Robert and Pipsan)
He worked with Saarinen and Swanson during his summers as a “gopher.” He also worked in the model shop where most of the design decisions were made. Eliel, Eero and Bob would come down to review the work.
Pipsan popularized blue as a strong color. He believed that his mother had the best sense of color of anyone he ever knew.
He tried to ﬁgure out what the architects wanted and then conceived it in a model. He would have to ﬁgure out the best medium in which to build the model. He often said, “if you draw it, I’ll build it.” One architect said he couldn't draw what JS had built.
The TWA terminal was a 3/4 inch scale model. He had to bend cardboard to ﬁt the design.
Typewritten text (sheet 4, recto):
He rarely had a set of drawings from which to construct the model. Usually, the measurements were taken from the model for working drawings.
Suzie Saarinen(daughter of Eero and Lily)
Eliel wore pink shirts - the only man she ever knew at that time who dressed like that. Eero wore white shirts with black or gray jackets.
She remembers watching Eero go up and down the model of the St. Louis arch with a stop watch to see if there was a problem with walking on the steps. Eero made her climb in and out of the room with the elevator with a stop watch to judge the ease of access.
Eero developed virtual reality with his models. GB believed that developing full-size models was an historic change in architecture. GB wonders if this change resulted from a trip Eero made to the GM Tech Center styling section. While there, Eero saw look-alike models. After this Eero did a lot of work with exact models.
The GM board was scheduled to look at a model of the building and master plan. The board moved the date up by several weeks. Eero told Joe Lacy to call Jim Smith back from a skiing vacation. After two telegrams with no response, Eero said to send one saying that JS would be ﬁred if he didn't come back. JS wired back, "Base 54", 8" new powder, send check.”
“Eero Saarinen and Associates" Peter Papademetriou, NJ Institute of Technology
He talked about the many people who had worked with Eero and how many were not with the group today. His voice cracked as he mentioned Paul Kennon.
What brought people to Eero Saarinen’s ofﬁce?
Based upon a reference from one of GP’s friends, Eero called GP to set up an interview. They arranged to meet in the Oak Room at the Plaza on a Friday night. Eero said, “l’m older than I look in my pictures." When they met, Eero said, he had invited a friend to join them. Moments later, Philip Johnson arrived. On the following Monday morning, GP got a call from Eero asking GP to visit Bloomﬁeld Hills for another interview. When GP explained he had no money, Eero said that the ofﬁce would pay for his ticket. GP met in the conference room with J. Bar, Eero, Eliel and Joe Lacy. Eliel was so kind, unaffected and asked very sympathetic questions.
Typewritten text (sheet 4, verso):
GP had never seen buildings with such a synthesis of architecture and landscape.
Eero would follow Eliel around the ofﬁce at 11:00. Eliel would return to Cranbrook at 1:00 for lunch and a nap.
Social life was just the families of the staff. There weren’t many other people around.
Salaries varied from $2.75-3.75/hour.
Eero was mentioned very little at Yale from ‘55-'57. HR did not think that Eero was in favor with Vin Scully.
Peter van Dijk
He was at MIT grad school in architecture when he got “the call” and replied, “Earl who?"
There was a diverse approach to projects. When TB arrived, there were 120 people on staff.
He was in the MIT class with Peter van Dijk. CD sent drawings and cartoons to Eero along with some architectural renderings. When CD got the call with a job offer, Eero said he would like for CD to come to work - pause - “as a cartoonist.”
BK was from the Beaux Arts tradition of drawing, not Yale, Harvard or MIT. BK believes that these years were the most creative time of the oﬁice.
Eero was on "Meet the Press.” The reporter asked him if he could speak faster. Eero took out his pipe, tapped it, and replied, “No, but I could say less.”
MJ went with Eero to meet with the MIT president on the chapel. The president told Eero that MIT was forward thinking, so they didn't mind if Eero came up with a design that was forward thinking, maybe even controversial. Eero was smoking his pipe on the plane going back to Michigan. He asked MJ “How do we become legitimately controversial?” Eero asked, “What is the most sacred precept of architecture?" MJ replied, “Form follows function." Eero said, “We must come up with a form that proves you can shove any function into it."
Typewritten text (sheet 5, recto):
Eero had a totalness of commitment and design - proved architecture isn't just working drawings.
When they lost the Air Force Academy competition, Eero began to have the feeling that working drawings were important. Before this, they had focused mostly on design. They contracted with other ﬁrms to do the working drawings.
All major decisions had gone back to Eero. John Dinkeloo had Eero re-structure the ofﬁce with project managers.
The feeling was that you had to do the right thing for the client. He always understood the client’s needs. Design and site respond to needs; You had to look beyond the project to get the full picture.
There was a bad mistake(never explained what it was) with Concordia College in 1955. Eero decided that they had to stop running the office as a studio where people could do whatever they wanted.
Kevin Roche began to run design teams. In competitions, he would decide what to present and the methodology for project presentation. After this KR never did any more projects himself.
Eero worked so hard and was so self-critical. The board of John Deere liked the design, but he said that he had lost the thread. Eero took the model back and worked more.
Eero agreed to let Jack Goldman visit his family for Christmas dinner - a four hour trip, even though the ofﬁce was pushing a deadline. Eero replied, “I guess I’ll have dinner with my family too.”
Eero would listen to a client and change his ideas. The oﬁice would always try to understand the client.
During a meeting on Dulles, Najeem Halaby(with FAA?) said that architects don’t know how the inside of a building should function. Eero stood up and calmly explained that Halaby's idea of a hall of history would not work. After a lengthy explanation, Halaby replied, "ln other words, you’re saying I don’t know what I’m talking about.” Halaby dropped his suggestions.
GM Tech Center - One of the automotive designers thought his designers knew as much about how to build a structure as an architect. He presented a plan and
Typewritten text (sheet 5, verso):
Eero took it back to the ofﬁce and let the staff take it apart. When Eero returned with a new plan, he explained how they really hadn't changed anything, but had simply moved certain pieces of the building around. He kept saying this during the presentation, even though rather dramatic changes were made.
The ofﬁce thought that Dulles would make a great ruin, perhaps the greatest of the 20th century.
John Dinkeloo worked with the construction industry to develop new materials for Eero to use.
Eero was on the jury to select the Sydney Opera House architect.
Eero said that in the design of a project, one should establish the idea from the site and apply the structure to it. Orchestrate the design as a fugue so it would have integrity, ﬂow and rhythm through the building. "Playing the keyboard of the architecture.”
Music was often played in the office. Ties in with building on a theme and orchestrating the architecture on site.
Axial symmetry is comforting for someone with dyslexia. One of her sons is dyslexic, yet he designs astro-physics projects. SS, as a landscape architect, ﬁnds it much easier to deal with models in 3 dimension. SS wonders if Eero was dyslexic because of his dependency on models.
After 1956, there was a change in the decision making process. Eero said he couldn’t make the same kinds of decisions he did in the past because the ofﬁce was so busy. A designer was put in charge of a project. KR checked on the progress. After the restructuring, 3 people were in the ofﬁce design meetings - Eero, KR and the project designer. The project designer, KR and Eero went to the presentation/work session with the client.
Cesar Pelli was in charge of TWA terminal. It was the ﬁrst large model they used in the design process. They built it 1/2 size and put in a mirror.
Wesley Janz has been told by many that worked in the oﬁice that a capabilities brochure was never published. Eero never solicited clients, they came to him.
Large scale models were an efficient way to operate for a decision-maker like Eero. He could make decisions instantly about problems by seeing them rather than spending a couple of hours with drawings.
Typewritten text (sheet 6, recto):
Eero said that the ﬁnal design decision must be sifted through one man's mind, but that he wanted the contribution of everyone.
“An Evening of Remembrances”
Eero was unique in a positive and negative way. The press couldn’t cubby-hole him so they ignored him.
Before the full committee arrived, a subcommittee reduced the number of ﬁnalists for the Sydney Opera House competition to a dozen architects. Selection was based upon adherence to the specs. After the morning session reviewing the work of those selected by the subcommittee, Eero came back early from lunch and went to look at the rejected designs. He took a rejected design back to the committee that was eventually selected as the winner.
While eating grapefruit, he discovered the way to solve a design problem with the MIT chapel.
BK - Eero "conglomerated” all ideas together.
The St. Louis arch started out as a ﬂat rectangle. Supposedly Carl Milles or Marshall Fredericks inﬂuenced the ﬁnal design. There was some discussion that Eero copied the arch design from a Fascist symbol. Frank Lloyd Wright even said, “Eero was a nice boy who used to ride on my knee. He went wrong when he copied that from an Italian."
The arch didn’t ﬂood during the 1993 storms because of careful design calculations. Water came to within four feet of its base.
Mark Coir will develop a data base of names and addresses of people who worked in the Saarinen ofﬁce.
They hope to edit and transcribe the tapes and video so that they can be put into publishable form. They will seek ﬁnancial contributions to achieve this.
Cranbrook wants to develop archival resources for Swanson and ESA. They would like to create a major exhibition on Eero.
Only 5 Saarinen buildings are on the National Register.
Susan Wilkerson(?) at the National Building Museum in Washington has a large collection of information on the Saarinens.
Typewritten text (sheet 6, verso):
Joe Lacy’s daughter suggested thesis topics:
How does structural and design integrity continue to the present day?
What inﬂuence have the Saarinens had on other buildings?
The use of materials was ahead of its time
The use of nature by Eliel and how it inﬂuenced Eero
Cultural diversity of the staff
(Throughout the discussions, GB pushed the group to explore why Eero was different. At this point, he went to the front of the group and began to speak) If Eero had lived, our architecture would be entirely different. Eero was searching - he was a true modernist. His goal was to invent. Eero said, "What’s done is done. We have a four-legged chair, a three-legged, a two-legged. So we will do a one-legged chair."
Eero was up against the dogma of Mies, Bauhaus, Gropius, Wright, Corbusier. He was also up against Eliel, although Eliel was never dogmatic.
GB came to the office because the work was fresh and unseen. He came with no introduction.
GB is angered by architecture critics who do not put Eero in the position where he should be. At Eero’s death, modernist architecture stopped. Eero would have solved the problems.
Eero pondered decisions, searching for answers that had never been found before. Eero worked to make buildings appropriate and worked with symbol and metaphor.
Eero’s expressionism got the juice out of the real problem and expressed it.
The real future of architecture is not looking for style. Style is a crutch. Eero was not looking for style - that is what took him so long for the design of buildings.
During chats with the architects...
Lewis Zurlo was sent to an empty theatre in Pontiac, Ml the ﬁrst day in the office. Eero had rented this and told LZ to mock-up the stage design for the Vivian Beaumont Theatre with cardboard. LZ also built four back row seats at the same distance from the stage that the Beaumont would have. Eero brought Elia Kazan and Robert Whitehead by limo to see the mock-up. Kazan and Whitehead decided that the expression on Julie Harris’ face could be seen from the back row and approved the design.
Maury Allen said that all of Eero’s work was going very well except North Christian Church - he was just not happy with the design. MA had to explain to the congregation during a meeting that Eero was struggling with the project. A man said, "Young man, if we waited as long for the minister to preach the Word of God as we’re waiting for this church, we would never hear it."
Typewritten text (sheet 7, recto):
All of the staff were essentially foreigners in Michigan. They depended on each other for social life since the ofﬁce, at that time, was in the middle of nowhere. They entered a lot of competitions because there was nothing else to do.
Why the ofﬁce moved to Connecticut...
The east coast was where the action was. Eero was working on CBS and Stanton and Bill Paley tried to intimidate Eero. Eero would have been happy to stay in MI. Aline Saarinen probably pushed it too. Eero’s death delayed the move because the staff’s children were to be in school at the ﬁrst of September and they didn’t move until October.
Bob Ziegelman’s father was in the hospital when Eero was brought in. The press said that Eero was holding on, but Aline told Bob that Eero was only being kept alive by machine.
At the end of the conference, Suzie Saarinen walked to the front of the room. Her voice broke as she said, “l came to touch a piece of my father that l never knew. Thank you for making that possible.”
Handwritten text (sheet7, verso):
Handwritten annotations mention Karl Milles and his sculptures at Cranbrook.