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Eero Saarinen collection

Call Number: MS 593

Scope and Contents

The Eero Saarinen Collection is a rich source of documentation about this noted American architect, whose short, prolific career coincided with one of the most economically and culturally expansive decades in American history. Beginning with Saarinen's earliest work at the firm of his father, Eliel Saarinen, and ending with documentation of projects completed after his death, this collection contains information about all of Saarinen's projects, major and minor, built and unbuilt.

The collection consists primarily of drawings and photographs from each of the projects, with scattered amounts of correspondence, product samples, publicity materials, specifications, clippings from period publications, reference materials, and audio-visual materials pertaining to the projects. The collection also contains material pertaining to Saarinen's childhood and personal life, his professional activities, and the administrative and publicity records of his firm, Eero Saarinen and Associates. A small amount of material on the life and work of Eliel Saarinen is also available in this collection.

Little correspondence between Saarinen and his clients or contractors exists in this collection; it was apparently destroyed before the collection was donated to Yale. The two projects in the collection that do have significant amounts of correspondence associated with them are the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri and the North Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana. Not all projects in the collection are documented at the same level: for example, the David S. Ingalls Rink at Yale University is documented by only three original drawings, whereas the Trans World Air Lines Terminal [Trans World Flight Center] at John F. Kennedy Airport fills more than 13 tubes of drawings.

Material from all accessions in the Saarinen collection has been merged into one single manuscript group. These materials came into Yale's custody in two main accessions. The first donation came from Aline Saarinen, Eero Saarinen's widow, in 1971. It was deposited in the Art and Architecture Library at Yale, and manuscript material was transferred to Manuscripts and Archives in 1976. This donation consisted primarily of personal materials, childhood and family photographs, audio-visual materials, materials pertaining to Eliel Saarinen, some of Aline Saarinen's personal papers, and early design sketches of various buildings. Additional materials, including watercolor sketches and travel sketchbooks, were transferred to the Yale Art Gallery by the Library in 1976. In 2002, Kevin Roche, the principal of Saarinen's successor firm Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, donated all of the job files, publicity materials, drawings, and photographs that had been in the possession of the firm since Saarinen's death in 1961. Processing of these materials began in 2002 and was finished in 2006. Additional materials were donated to the collection by Oliver Lundquist, a former associate of Saarinen's, and by the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Travel slides belonging to Saarinen that had originally been housed in the Visual Resources Collection at Yale were transferred to Manuscripts and Archives in 2005.

The current arrangement of the collection reflects a re-working of the order in which the materials were received to incorporate the various accessions into one comprehensive scheme. Due to the varying size of the materials in the collection and the need to provide a logical intellectual order within series, box numbers in this collection are non-sequential. Cross-references to oversize boxes are provided when items were divided, or when related material may be found in another box. Further arrangement decisions are noted in the series-level description within the finding aid.

The Eero Saarinen collection saw a great deal of research use prior to its being formally processed at Yale. An in-house researcher at the successor firm arranged the papers, interfiling notes and photocopies of other repositories' holdings. These were removed during processing.

This collection is arranged in five series: Personal Papers, Professional Papers, Office Records, Project Records, and Audio-Visual Materials. The bulk of the collection is contained in the Project records series, which includes drawings, photographs, specifications, and other documentation of the projects that Saarinen and his firm designed. Personal papers contain documentation of Saarinen's childhood and personal relationships, as well as his travels. The Professional papers are distinct from the Office records and the Project records in that they contain information about Saarinen's work outside of the process of designing and constructing buildings. This series includes information about Saarinen's awards, his work on committees and juries, and his writings, as well as some documentation of Eliel Saarinen's work. Office records, like the Professional papers, pertain to the work of the architectural firm aside from designing and constructing buildings. Most of the records in this series are public relations and presentation materials. Some financial records of the firm also exist in this series. The small series of Audio-Visual materials primarily contains films about Saarinen's buildings under construction and sound recordings of Saarinen discussing his architecture.

Material concerning one particular project may be found in several series. For example, an award for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Saarinen's writings about the structure will be found in the Professional papers; publicity photographs of the building and scrapbook entries will be found in the Office records; and drawings, correspondence, construction photographs, and specifications for the monument will be found in the Project records.

Similar types of material may be found across series, such as correspondence, photographs, or biographical material. These types of materials are housed in the series that either original order dictated or in the most appropriate series as determined by the archivist. For example, biographical information about Saarinen will be found in the Personal papers, but biographical sketches of Saarinen are also found in Office records, since these sketches were sent out with promotional materials when the firm was attempting to win a commission.

Other collections in the United States containing material related to Saarinen, his family, and his associates include the Saarinen Family Papers at the Cranbrook Archives in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and the Aline and Eero Saarinen Papers and the Florence Knoll Bassett Papers in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


  • 1880-2004
  • Majority of material found within 1938 - 1962


Conditions Governing Access

While this collection as a whole is available for research, parts of it may be restricted due to law, university policy or fragility. Any restricted material will be noted as such.

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has been transferred to Yale University for any rights owned by Jane Merkel in Accession 2011-M-052. Materials for which copyright has been transferred to Yale may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Aline Saarinen, 1971; Robert Scobey and the firm of Cooper, Dunham, Clark, Griffin & Moran, 1982; Peter C. Papademetriou, 1987; Brackley Shaw, 1988; Charles Dibbell, 1992; Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, 2003-2005, 2008-2010, 2018-2022; Robert A. M. Stern, 2004; Gerald D. Hines School of Architecture, University of Houston, 2004; Oliver Lundquist, 2004; Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, 2006; Will Miller and Irwin Management Company, 2010-2011; Jayne Merkel, 2011; Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, 2011; D. Thomas Kincaid, 2011; Frederick T. Kubitz, 2014.


Arranged in five series and eight additions: I. Personal Papers, 1920-2004 (inclusive), 1940-1961 (bulk). II. Professional Papers, 1909-1990. III. Office Records, 1880-1985. IV. Project Records, 1936-1989 (inclusive), 1941-1962 (bulk). V. Audio-Visual Materials, 1956-1961, undated.

Related Material

Aline and Eero Saarinen Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Saarinen Collection, Yale Art Gallery.

Saarinen Family Papers, Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Educational Community.

Richard Gamble Knight Papers, MS 1999, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University.


708.77 Linear Feet (789 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Eero Saarinen collection includes drawings, photographs, correspondence, writings, clippings, and audio-visual material relating to Saarinen's professional work as an architect, as well as a small amount of personal material created by himself and his wife, Aline Saarinen. A small amount of material in this collection documents the work of his father, architect Eliel Saarinen.

Biographical / Historical

Eero Saarinen was born in Kirkkonummi, Finland on August 20, 1910. His parents, architect Eliel Saarinen and sculptor Loja Gesellius Saarinen, moved to Michigan in 1923 after Eliel Saarinen took second place in the Chicago Tribune tower competition. The Saarinens worked with publisher and philanthropist George C. Booth to create the arts-focused educational community of Cranbrook, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Eero Saarinen attended Cranbrook Academy where his family lived and taught, and, while a student, designed furniture, doors and doorknobs, bricks, and other sculpture for the school and its grounds. After graduating from Cranbrook, Saarinen moved to Paris in 1929 to study sculpture at the Grande Chaumière but returned to the United States to attend architecture school at Yale. He received his Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts in 1934 and briefly worked in the New York office of architect Norman Bel Geddes.

Upon his graduation from Yale, Saarinen was awarded the Charles O. Matcham Travelling Fellowship and traveled throughout Europe, taking photographs, painting watercolor sketches, and making detailed drawings of buildings. When he returned to the United States, he moved back to Michigan to teach alongside his father at Cranbrook and to become a partner, along with his brother-in-law J. Robert F. Swanson, at his firm, renamed Saarinen, Swanson, Saarinen and Associates. Saarinen married sculpture student Lilian Swann in 1939, and the couple became a fixture at Cranbrook, drawing to them a number of designers and artists who would become household names in the decades to come; Charles Eames, Ray Kaiser, Harry Bertoia, Harry Weese, and Ralph Rapson were all friends and collaborators with the Saarinens, and Florence Schust [later Florence Knoll Bassett], a close childhood friend, would commission furniture from both Eames and Saarinen in the coming years. In 1940, Eames' and Saarinen's designs for the Museum of Modern Art's "Organic Furniture" competition won first place and were later exhibited at the museum. In 1942, Eero and Lilian had their first child, Eric, and in 1945 their daughter Susan was born. At this time, Saarinen became a United States citizen, and from 1942 to 1945 he served in the Office of Strategic Services as a designer.

Until Eliel's death in 1950, Eero and his father continued to practice architecture together as Saarinen and Saarinen Associates (Swanson left the firm in 1947), despite Eero's securing his own commissions. Notably, he won the competition for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri -- a competition that his father had also entered and, for a short period, believed he had won. Many of Eero Saarinen's earliest works were collaborations with his father, including the winning entry in the competition for the Smithsonian Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Des Moines Art Center/Edmundson Memorial Museum; the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois; Tabernacle Church of Christ in Columbus, Indiana; and the early designs for the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. After Eliel's death, Eero changed the name of the firm to Eero Saarinen and Associates and emerged as an extremely prolific architect with his own strong creative vision -- one he described as "structural expressionism". He did not hesitate to push the boundaries of what was technologically possible with existing building materials; if a building component didn't exist, he would invent it. His humanistic approach to design and his philosophy of building in "the style for the job" set him apart from his more dogmatically Modernist contemporaries.

In the ten-year period between Eliel's death and Eero's own death, his firm embarked on more than forty projects, including such major works as the Trans World Air Lines Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York; the John Deere Administrative Center in Moline, Illinois; the Bell Laboratories headquarters in Holmdel, New Jersey; Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.; and the Columbia Broadcasting System headquarters in New York. He also continued to work closely with the J. Irwin Miller family of Columbus, Indiana, whose company, the Cummins Engine Company, became one of the great corporate patrons of modern architecture in America. In 1949, A. Whitney Griswold, the president of Yale University, asked Saarinen to create a master plan for the university's anticipated expansion and later awarded him the commissions for Ezra Stiles and Samuel F. B. Morse Colleges and the David S. Ingalls Rink. Between 1948 and 1961 Saarinen served on the Yale University Council as Architecture chairman, as well as its Committees on the Yale Center for Fine Arts and on the Division of the Arts. In 1949 he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Yale University.

In 1953 Eero and Lilian Saarinen divorced, and that same year Saarinen married Aline Bernstein Louchheim, the arts and architecture editor for the New York Times. Eero and Aline had one son, Eames, in 1954. In 1952, Saarinen was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and in 1960 became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Because most of Saarinen's late commissions were on the East Coast of the United States, Saarinen decided, in 1961, to relocate the firm from Bloomfield Hills to Hamden, Connecticut, just a few miles north of the Yale Campus. Tragically, on September 1, 1961, two weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Saarinen died during surgery, just days before the move was to take place. Ten of his projects remained unfinished and were completed by the surviving members of the reorganized firm known as Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates. The American Institute of Architects posthumously awarded Saarinen its Gold Medal in 1962.

Guide to the Eero Saarinen Collection
Under Revision
compiled by Laura Tatum, Christine Connolly, Sean Khorsandi, Mayur Mehta, and Jessica Quagliaroli
September 2006
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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