Gottlieb Eliel Saarinen (/ˈsɑːrɪnən/, Finnish: [ˈelie̯l ˈsɑːrinen]; August 20, 1873 – July 1, 1950) was a Finnish-American architect known for his work with art nouveau buildings in the early years of the 20th century. He was also the father of famed architect Eero Saarinen.[1][2]

Eliel Saarinen
Eliel Saarinen in early 1900s
Gottlieb Eliel Saarinen

August 20, 1873
DiedJuly 1, 1950(1950-07-01) (aged 76)
SpouseLoja Saarinen
AwardsAIA Gold Medal
  • Finnish pavilion at the World Fair of 1900

Life and work in Finland

Armas Lindgren, Eliel Saarinen, Albertina Östman, and Herman Gesellius in the late 1890s

Saarinen was educated in Helsinki at the Helsinki University of Technology. From 1896 to 1905 he worked as a partner with Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren at the firm Gesellius, Lindgren, Saarinen. His first major work with the firm, the Finnish pavilion at the Paris 1900 World Fair, exhibited an extraordinary convergence of stylistic influences: Finnish wooden architecture, the British Gothic Revival, and the Jugendstil. Saarinen's early manner was later christened the Finnish National Romanticism and culminated in the Helsinki Central railway station (designed 1904, constructed 1910–14).[1]

From 1910 to 1915 he worked on the extensive city-planning project of Munksnäs-Haga and later published a book on the subject. In January 1911 he became a consultant in city planning for Tallinn, Governorate of Estonia and was invited to Budapest to advise in city development. In 1912, a brochure written by Saarinen about the planning problems of Budapest was published. He was runner up behind Walter Burley Griffin in an international competition to design the new Australian capital city of Canberra in 1912, but the following year he received the first place award in an international competition for his plan of the city of Reval, now known as Tallinn. From 1917 to 1918 Saarinen worked on the city-plan for greater Helsinki. He also designed a series of postage stamps issued 1917 and the Finnish markka banknotes introduced in 1922.[1]

After the divorce from his first wife, Mathilde (who then married Herman Gesellius), on March 6, 1904, Saarinen married his second wife, Louise (Loja) Gesellius, a sculptor in Helsinki, and the younger sister of Herman Gesellius. They had a daughter Eva-Lisa (Pipsan) on March 31, 1905, and a son Eero on August 20, 1910.[1]

Move to the United States


Eliel Saarinen moved to the United States in 1923 after his competition entry for the Tribune Tower in Chicago, Illinois, won second place. While it was not built, the streamlined design inspired the architecture of many other skyscrapers.[3] Saarinen first settled in Evanston, Illinois, where he worked on his scheme for the development of the Chicago lake front. In 1924 he became a visiting professor at the University of Michigan.[1]

In 1925 George Gough Booth asked him to design the campus of Cranbrook Educational Community, intended to be an American equivalent to the Bauhaus. Saarinen taught there and became president of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1932. Among his student-collaborators were Ray Eames (then Ray Kaiser) and Charles Eames; Saarinen influenced their subsequent furniture design.[1]

During 1929–34, Saarinen contributed product designs for the Wilcox Silver Plate Co. / International Silver Company in Meriden, Connecticut.[4] His iconic tea urn (c. 1934) was first exhibited in 1934–35 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.[5] Over the years, the tea urn has been widely exhibited, including in St. Louis Modern (2015–16) at the St Louis Art Museum,[6] Cranbrook Goes to the Movies: Films and Their Objects, 1925–1975 at the Cranbrook Art Museum (2014–15).,[7] and in 2005–07, in the touring exhibition Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design, organized by the Dallas Museum of Art, which also traveled to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.[8] In 1951–52, the tea urn was featured in the Eliel Saarinen Memorial Exhibition which traveled to multiple venues across the United States. In addition to Cranbrook, the Dallas Museum and the St Louis Museum, The British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art also hold tea urn-related Eliel Saarinen designs.[9]

Eliel Saarinen became a professor in the University of Michigan's Architecture Department.

His son, Eero (1910–1961), became one of the most important American architects of the mid-20th century, as one of the leaders of the International style. Saarinen's student Edmund N. Bacon achieved national prominence as Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 to 1970.

Eliel received the AIA Gold Medal in 1947.

Significant works

Saarinen designed entire city districts of Helsinki, but they were never built due to cost. This picture shows his plan for the Haaga district.
Illustration of the Kalevala House, an unbuilt building designed by Saarinen.
Work Location Finished Picture
Finnish Pavilion at the Exposition Universelle
(designed with Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren)
Paris 1900  
Hvitträsk Kirkkonummi 1902  
National Museum of Finland Helsinki 1904  
Luther Factory Workers' Canteen and People's House
(designed with Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren)
Tallinn 1905  
Helsinki Central railway station Helsinki 1909  
Lahti Town Hall Lahti 1911  
Former Credit Bank Headquarters ("Saarinen House") Tallinn 1912  
Vyborg railway station Vyborg 1913  
Joensuu Town Hall Joensuu 1914  
Saint Paul's Church Tartu 1917  
Marble Palace Helsinki 1918  
Munkkiniemi Pension house Helsinki 1920  
Koussevitzky Music Shed Lenox 1938  
Kleinhans Music Hall Buffalo 1940  
Crow Island School Winnetka 1940–41  
First Christian Church Columbus, IN 1942  
Cranbrook Educational Community Bloomfield Hills 1940s  
Des Moines Art Center Des Moines 1948  
Christ Church Lutheran Minneapolis 1949  

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f Wäre, Ritva (August 14, 2015). "Saarinen, Eliel (1873–1950)". Kansallisbiografia. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  2. ^ "Eliel Saarinen". Museum of Finnish Architecture. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  3. ^ "Tribune Tower" (PDF). Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks. June 1986. Retrieved January 22, 2023.
  4. ^ (April 3, 2016). International Silver Company design catalogues and historical information. artdesigncafe. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  5. ^ (January–February 1935). "At Metropolitan Museum: Silverware executed by International Silver Co. in Contemporary American Industrial Art Exhibit". / International Silver Standard, International Silver Co. newsletter, 3(4), pp. 6–7. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  6. ^ (September 8, 2015)."Press release: Saint Louis Art Museum marks Gateway Arch anniversary with St. Louis Modern". St. Louis Art Museum. Retrieved January 1, 2017).
  7. ^ (Undated). "Exhibition detail: Cranbrook Goes to the Movies Films and Their Objects, 1925–1975". Cranbrook Art Museum website. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  8. ^ Stern, Jewel. (2005). "Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design". Dallas Museum of Art and Yale University Press. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  9. ^ (March 16, 2016). "Wilcox Silver Plate Co. designs in collections, at auction, and in exhibitions". Design Meriden / Retrieved January 1, 2017.

Further reading