Rediscovering Eero Saarinen

Witold Rybczynski in Slate:8_twa

Much to the critics’ chagrin, Saarinen’s work did not follow a straight-line trajectory. Unlike his contemporaries—Philip Johnson, Paul Rudolph, Minoru Yamasaki, and Edward Durell Stone—he did not stick to one style but went off in different, seemingly unrelated directions. At the same time as he was building Morse and Stiles, for example, he was also designing the most fanciful building of the 1950s, the TWA Terminal in New York’s Idlewild (now JFK) Airport. Responding to his client’s demand to convey “the spirit of flight,” Saarinen, who had earlier designed a thin concrete vault at MIT, combined concrete shell construction with his sculptural training. He said that he always wanted his architecture to make people feel things, and nowhere is this truer than at TWA, which was a throwback to the German Expressionist architecture of Erich Mendelsohn. Another heresy, since modern architects were supposed to look forward, not backward. We now can see that TWA also anticipated the late-20th-century Expressionism of architects such as Greg Lynn and Zaha Hadid.