Archive for the ‘Saarinen’ Category

Rest in Peace Jørn Utzon

Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect, died on November 29, aged 90.
He designed the Sydney Opera House
but left the project and never saw it completed.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

With a friend, Tobias Faber, Utzon wrote a controversial article espousing two central architectural principles; learning from vernacular architecture and intelligent response to function.

If these were the seeds of the Sydney Opera House design, travel was the nutrient. In the late 1940s, the Utzons went to America, where Joern had warm meetings with the renowned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen in Michigan, Frank Lloyd Wright in Wisconsin and Charles Eames in California, as well as a bizarre encounter in Chicago with the cigar-sucking Mies van der Rohe, where communication, in English, was through a secretary. Mies allowed the Utzons to visit his newly finished Farnsworth House at Plano, Illinois.

Utzon was struck by the way Miesian spaces were at once disciplined and voluptuous, by Wright’s richly textural use of material and by the sheer panache with which Eames combined off-the-shelf componentry; lessons which he combined to good effect in his own house in Hammermill Wood, Hellebaek, 1952. Next stop Mexico, where Utzon had his first experience of the Mayan temples that, in creating massive stone platforms at the height of the jungle canopy, enabled the Mayans to break through into the sunlight and re-create lost horizons; much as Utzon would later do in Sydney.

(From the New York Times) – As a young architect Mr. Utzon worked for Gunnar Asplund in Sweden and Alvar Aalto in Finland before establishing his own practice in Copenhagen in 1950. In 1956 he read about the Sydney Opera House competition in a Swedish architecture magazine. He spent six months designing a building with sail-like roofs, their geometry, he said, derived from the sections of an orange.

(Back to the Sydney Morning Herald) … by the time he won the Sydney Opera House competition, Utzon was a 39-year-old architect brimming with ideas and design skill but with relatively little experience in the tribulations of getting things built….

The apocryphal story is that (Opera House competition judge) Saarinen arrived two days late and, plucking Utzon’s scheme from the bin, declared it the winner. “So many opera houses look like boots,” he told the press at the time. “Utzon has solved the problem.” … the winner was agreed…. Ten-year-old Lin Utzon, Joern’s eldest child (who herself would later create a number of artworks for Sydney buildings) carried the news to her father, pedalling furiously through the frozen landscape on her bike. “Now,” she said, “can I have my horse?”

Even as Utzon basked in his win, the furor began. His winning scheme was displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art beside Saarinen’s TWA Terminal. Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe hated Utzon’s design; Saarinen and Richard Neutra loved it.

Read the whole story here.

A professor of mine, Rafael Moneo, worked on the building, under Utzon. He helped develop some of the geometries of the curved shells. Moneo spoke in superlatives of his former employer. And he said that working on that project influenced his design for the

Kursaal Auditorium and Congress Center in San Sebastián, Spain (1999). Particularly in the use of two volumes to separate functions.

Warning to those who like straight lines – I don’t think his Kursaal – by all accounts wonderful – identifies San Sebastián as famously as Utzon’s design identifies Sydney.

But the Kursaal halls are said to have marvelous acoustics, whereas the acoustics in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House are said to be poor and artists complain about the lack of performance and backstage space.

Lynn Becker has a smart post on Jørn Utzon.

Utzon portrait AFP/Getty
Sunset shot Greg Wood/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Yale Whale


Of course there’s the “Yale Whale” by Eero Saarinen

The David S. Ingalls Ice Arena (1956-58);
which to me was always more of a


But “stingray” doesn’t rhyme with Yale.

I’ll post soon on a recent California museum with the power and mystery and belly of a whale. Know which one?


Wright, Saarinen and Mies restored at the University of Chicago


Read the story of each by clicking on each photo.

Wright’s Robie House is stirring up a little controversy for how it might be used in the future. In architecture, as in politics, “follow the money.”

But after it is restored, Robie House should look better than any of us has ever seen it.

From the website of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust:

The restoration’s main goals are to stabilize the building, repair the damage caused over time, and return the building to its original appearance in 1910 when construction was completed and the house best reflected the design intent of the architect and the client. Throughout the process, as much original building fabric as possible will be conserved so that the Robie House will showcase with historical accuracy Frank Lloyd Wright’s original extraordinary design…

Exterior restoration began in the spring of 2002, and was completed on schedule in July 2003. The first step was to stabilize the building by preventing further water infiltration and repairing termite-damaged areas. Major projects included repairs of damage caused by water penetration, installation of a historical clay tile roof, replastering of deteriorated soffits, extensive masonry repairs, replacement of damaged bricks and limestone, stabilization or rebuilding of balconies, and conservation of 22 art glass doors and windows. All internal electrical wiring was updated and new water service was introduced. A climate management system, interlocking aspirating fire detection system, and a dry sprinkler system were installed. Reproduction iron gates have been installed in the garden and garage area….

While the exterior restoration has been completed, a significant amount of work remains to fully restore the Robie House to its historic appearance…. The interior of the home, after years of use as a dormitory and office building, needs to be restored to the original design. This includes recreating interior finishes and paint colors; conserving the original wood floors; and conserving 118 art glass windows and sashes. Missing building elements need to be restored, including custom fabricating 70 brass light fixtures; reconstructing built-in cabinets and buffets; replacing missing hardware; recreating bathroom fixtures; and procuring period pieces such as telephones, a stove and kitchen sink. Five custom-made carpets also need to be recreated.

And the landscaping!

Finally, the exterior needs to be landscaped to emphasize the relationship Wright created between the building and nature. Three large elm trees must be planted to recreate the appearance of the site in 1910, and the built-in flower boxes planted to recreate the appearance of the exterior as portrayed in the famous Wasmuth Portfolio plate of 1910.

That’ll change everything. Can’t wait.

Robie House is expected to be fully reopened in 2010, in time for its 100th anniversary.

Mies’ SSA building photo courtesy of

From Cambridge to LA


On my way to LA.
So I thought I’d say “see you soon” to some of my favorite Boston and Cambridge spots. Here’s the Saarinen chapel at MIT. Don’t the electric lights above the altar look like a blue LA sky?

Connecting heaven and earth


Eero Saarinen’s non-denominational Chapel at MIT

The ‘piccolo Pantheon’ of Cambridge.

If you visit Boston this week for the AIA convention and you find you need “a place of mystic quiet,” here you are.


Saarinen and Bose?
Architecture and music?!

I was asked to describe the journey into Eero Saarinen’s chapel at MIT.

One thing that amazes me about it is how in such a small volume it moves so much air and space.

Which got me thinking about something else associated with MIT that moves a lot of air inside a small volume….

The Bose Wave
How it works.

Only because the two tunnels fold back and forth can enough air be moved in the right way to create a rich, full sound. This is hard to achieve in such a small enclosure.

Inventor Amar Bose is a famous MIT alum.


But the journey in. First of all, the chapel tells you before you even get in, of its Roman ancestry and its connection to its Italian cousin, the Roman Pantheon. This chapel is built of brick (also the typical Boston building material), with arches, and even an “excavated” area around it as if it were antique

To enter the Pantheon, you pass through a portico.

Here too.

The little tunnel is an important part of the journey. The contemplative space inside could not be directly connected to the rest of the world; there must be a passage to it, and in modernist spirit Saarinen also has us make a 90 degree turn just after entering the portico/tunnel. This helps to leave daily life behind. Some people say it also means the bad spirits can’t follow you.

And then once inside,

Manna-ist Architecture. The finest example of “manna-ism” in the world? It is, I suppose, rivaled for effect by another work in Rome

But back to the Modern. And its connections to the past. In Saarinen’s chapel the steps and base of the altar are Roman travertine. The altar is marble.
Too bad the eye at the top of this is not open to the sky, but that wasn’t exactly the thinking in 1955 when this went up.

The shapes connect as in classical buildings which often put patterns on the floors that reprise the ceiling and thus create a cosmos.

I wonder when we’ll see chapels, like sports stadia, with retractable domes?

And only a Modernist would make a dome with a flat roof. But here, the eye creates the dome, and the sculpture atop the building creates a top point for you.

Did you know that Aaron Copland’s “Canticle of Freedom” was commissioned by MIT for the opening of the chapel and Eero Saarinen’s nearby Kresge Auditorium?

So back to music. The Pantheon has niches in the walls, Saarinen’s walls undulate to make the space seem larger than it is and to form modern, more secular niches. The space flows gracefully around these and seems to pick up speed. It swirls around like a vortex. Does the air turn into sound waves?

That horizontal movement excites the vertical movement above the altar.

Finally, Mr. Saarinen knew his little chapel would be right across Massachusetts Avenue from

another Pantheon-like Great Dome at MIT.


(Bottom photo grabbed from the web. Congrats guys, whoever you are! Going to work for Bose?)


Where was I?

Comments from the last post: Cynthia said… “Saarinen’s Chapel @ MIT. Incredible.”

She’s right. Send your address to and I’ll send you a Hello Beautiful! baseball cap poifect for Spring.

The tiny chapel is monumental. A mini-maxi Roman Pantheon.
But while the space inside the Pantheon basically carries you up and out the opening on top to ride with the g-ds; in this chapel, the conception of space is more modern. The movement of space on the inside connects heaven to earth. The light above connects to the altar on the earth, by way of the reflections off of Harry Bertoia’s screen sculpture.

Saarinen’s chapel and the Bertoia’s light-reflecting screen are old friends of mine. And I thought of it when I saw Behnisch, Behnisch and Partner’s Genzyme building, not far away, also in Cambridge, Mass; an office building highly “sustainable.” They use a similar sculpture, this one to reflect light down into the offices.

Sustainability does contain a spiritual aspect.


He said, She said


“Always design….”

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context –
a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment,
an environment in a city plan.”

– Finnish Architect Eliel Saarinen