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Bio

Eliel Saarinen
U of M Encyclopedic Survey 1303

In 1922 the Chicago Tribune held a worldwide competition for the design of its office building in Chicago. From the proposals submitted by the many brilliant competitors, that of Eliel Saarinen, of Finland, was awarded second prize. In the judgment of many architects and critics of architecture he should have received the first prize and would have won it from an impartial jury. Saarinen, then fifty-one years old, was already an internationally known architect. He had designed many important buildings in Finland and Estonia. He had won first prize in a number of competitions abroad and had carried out large town-planning projects at Munksnas-Haga and Greater Helsingfors in Finland. In the spring of 1923, Saarinen came to the United States and was persuaded by Lorch to come to the College of Architecture in the fall of 1923, to teach into the spring of 1924.

By special arrangement Saarinen taught a select group of seniors and graduates, emphasizing particularly the integration of architecture and city planning. His stay marked a high point in the history of the College, and a number of his students have contributed outstanding work in the practice of architecture and planning. His brilliant record abroad was surpassed by his accomplishment in the United States.

After he taught at the University he began work on Cranbrook School, and this was followed by the extensive Cranbrook group building program. With the sympathetic backing of George G. Booth, the Cranbrook Academy of Art was established with Saarinen as director. This school for advanced studies made a marked impression on American architectural education. A number of graduates of the College of Architecture and Design have held Cranbrook scholarships permitting them to join its student body for graduate work.

Saarinen won the Smithsonian Institute competition in 1939 and designed a number of other important buildings including Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York, 1938; the Tabernacle Church of Christ, Columbus, Indiana, 1940; Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa, 1944-48; and Christ Lutheran Church at Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1949. He died in 1950, at the age of seventy-six, still actively carrying on his practice and his teaching. Several buildings planned in collaboration with his son, Eero, were under way at the time of his death.