Saarinen Houses

Jari Jetsonen and Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen, Saarinen Houses

New York, NY (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014) , 244 pp, 280 color and 50 black and white illustrations.

Father Eliel and son Eero Saarinen are both well known for their respective architectural achievements and the many buildings of their hands that have become icons of architectural history.  However, the large majority of those are institutional or commercial buildings. Lesser known is their residential work, for Eliel in both his homeland Finland and in the US and for Eero in the US. The book Saarinen Houses brings these houses, a total of seventeen, together in one volume.

Aside from a short general introduction the book is composed of separate chapters that are case studies for each of the seventeen houses, of which the majority, twelve in fact, are in Finland, and five in the US. Of these houses only the US ones involve Eero working with his father for three of them and finally the last two designed by Eero alone after the death of his father in 1950. Each of the case studies consists of an introduction combined with drawings and black and white photographs that provide the historical context. However, the largest part of each case study is the beautiful color photography of not just the exterior but also of the interior and its detailing.

The Finnish houses are clearly of the hand of Eliel and are in that crafted tradition, the traces of which we continue to admire in later Scandinavian modernism. The first chapter sums it up with the title: “The Home as a Work of Art”. In the American work the participation of Eero slowly emerges and becomes gradually more apparent with its more modernist stylistic vocabulary, first in the two houses still working with his father and finally two houses, after his father’s death, entirely his own.

The book represents a fascinating architectural and design journey from Finland to America and from 19th Century Arts and Crafts to modernism starting at Elliel’s Villa Wuorio of 1898 to 1901 in Helsinki and ending with Eero’s Miller House of 1953 to 1957 in Columbus, Indiana. It is also about the lesser known story of a design family and the involvement in some of the projects of other members of the family like Eliel’s wife Loja, Eero’s sister Pipsan and her husband J. Robert Swanson.

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