May 12, 2008 Mid-Century Modern

Saarinen: The First ‘Starchitect’?

The Washington Post’s architecture critic Philip Kennicott reviews (includes a short slideshow)the Eero Saarinen exhibit at the National Building Museum. He delves into Saarinen’s eclectic career and suggests that the Finnish-American may have been the first “starchitect.” Excerpt below:

“The National Building Museum has a decent bullet-point summary for this exhibition: Saarinen is a great and famous architect about whom we know surprisingly little. This can be explained, in part, by his sudden death, which cut short his career at its zenith and left several of his most important projects to be finished posthumously. It can also be explained, in part, by his eclecticism. Even in his own day, his fellow architects and many critics felt that Saarinen reinvented his vocabulary with every project.

“In the short run, that sort of stylistic adventurism is problematic. Critics wondered, who is the real Saarinen? The refined practitioner of corporate headquarters? The maker of eccentric forms? The contextualizer with a sense of history who tried to fuse campus Gothic with contemporary style?

“In the long run, however, this sort of eclecticism only makes Saarinen seem prophetic. The breadth of his practice, his fondness for “iconic” forms, his forays into furniture and design, his fame — all of this feels very familiar. Another quick bullet point for this exhibition might be: Eero Saarinen, the first ‘starchitect.'”