EERO SAARINEN AND HELSINKI

Although Eero Saarinen pursued his life’s work in the United States and his oeuvre belongs to the history of American architecture, he had permanent and solid contacts with Finland, his country of birth, and the beginning of his professional career was associated with Helsinki.

After graduating in architecture from Yale University Eero Saarinen received in 1934 a travel grant form his alma mater permitting a two-year stay in Europe. He spent most of this time in Helsinki.

Saarinen worked in the office of the architect Jarl Eklund on joint projects, including a competition entry for the Finnish Pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair and plans for extensions to the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki. He also prepared his designs of own, a competition entry for the Main Post Office in Helsinki, and sketches and studies for a functionalist-style commercial building in the Forum block of the city centre.


Swedish Theatre alteration by Eero Saarinen and Jarl Eklund, 1935-36. Foto Roos/MFA
 
Eero Saarinen’s main work from his period in Helsinki was for extensions to the Swedish Theatre. His father, Eliel Saarinen, had already prepared proposals for renovating the theatre in the 1920s, and he now passed the task on to Jarl Eklund and his son. Eero Saarinen prepared several sketches and studies for the theatre while working in Eklund’s office. Some of these proposals sought to follow the Neo-Renaissance style of the original theatre design by Nikolai Benois, while in others a hotel was suggested in connection with the theatre. More limited extensions, however, were finally chosen, with the motifs of classicist architecture reduced to a minimum.
 
Chair for the Swedish Theatre and restaurant chairs by Eero Saarinen, 1936. MFA
 
The extensions were not received in a very positive vein upon being completed. There were negative comments on the loss of the Neo-Renaissance appearance of the theatre as designed by Benois. The journal Arkkitehti criticized the new design as being unsuited to its setting.

Eero Saarinen also prepared sketches and studies for a commercial building at the site of the present Forum complex at the Mannerheimintie and Simonkatu streets. Saarinen called the project a ”city palace”. These plans were also related to earlier work by Eliel Saarinen. Eero Saarinen proposed a modern functionalist commercial building of 2–3 storeys for the site, with façades consisting solely of large windows. The building would have been like a lantern at busy traffic intersection of the city centre, and a counterpart to the Lasipalatsi complex built opposite to it on Simonkatu street around the same time.
 
City Palace by Eero Saarinen, ca. 1936. Plan for a temporary commercial building. MFA
 
Eero Saarinen returned to the United States in the summer of 1936 and soon began to collaborate with his father. He visited Finland, however, on several occasions, including his honeymoon in 1939. On this visit he praised Alvar Aalto’s Finnish Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair.
 
Eliel and Eero Saarinen at Hvitträsk, Kirkkonummi, ca. 1920. MFA
 
Sketches and studies by Eero Saarinen have been preserved in the collection of the Museum of Finnish Architecture (MFA).

Architects Databank: Read more about Eero Saarinen and Eliel Saarinen >>
Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future exhibition >>