Objet trouvé [02] : Eero Saarinen and the golden proportions of his intuition | Rodrigo Almonacid

Studies of proportions realized by Eero Saarinen for the arch of the Jefferson National Expansion Brief in Saint Louis, c.1959

Eero Saarinen was born in Finland, in 1910, but at the age of 13 his family moved to live through Chicago, precisely thanks to the economic endowment that his father Eliel (also architect) had obtained on having gained the second prize in the famous international contest of the Chicago Tribune. The rest of his life would continue happening the summers with his family in his natal country, and, as so many northern architects of the epoch, would visit the countries of the Mediterranean learning the lessons of architecture in situ, not for the books.

Nobody would discuss the irreverent modernity of his brief professional career, dramatically cut by a cerebral tumor in 1961. And, nevertheless, in these more fervent years of his office, it did not conceal his interest for the History of the Architecture in general and of the medieval one especially:

“During the dark Middle Ages there arose a new architecture liberated of the canonical proportions. The Romanesque one and the Gothic, the most beautiful architecture produced by the western man, was the result”.1

In 1947 it initiated his day_s run in solitarily, coming undone this way from the study of his father to whose shade had learned the profession. In this year one presented of independent form to the contest for the design of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in San Luis. He designed a solution very purified on having concentrated all the interest of his project in a great arch like urban icon on a large scale monumentally, authentic “door” to the western American territory. The Mississippi is a natural border between the conditions of Illinois and Missouri, and to cross his riverbed towards San Luis is an event that his numerous bridges celebrate from the 19th century, so to resort to the form of the arch was favoring the empathy with the forms of his most typical urban landscape, beside Roman recovers the semiótica of the “arch of victory” for the contemporary panorama.

In the first phase of the contest, the tracing of San Luis’ arch was directed by the mathematical precision, in the shape of exact parable. But in the second phase, Saarinen altered the design it to fit to the “precision of the eye” (according to his own words), adopting the form of a reversed chain, that is to say, a curve of more “natural” origin since it is a function of the own weight of the cable stretched between two fastened ends; and in addition structurally it is the simplest, on having worked exclusively to compression.

In two of his geometric studies of the project realized in 1959 it seems to chase the perfect curve across the classic cánones of the man of Vitruvio drawn by Leonardo Vinci gives or of the contemporary “modulor” of Him Corbusier. It planned numerous lines inscribed in a square (since not uselessly his Gateway Arch was so high as a width), and it did it to try to justify the origin of the divine form on having rested on the rules of the golden section that governs the proportions of sendos models. Circumferences, diagonal, parallel and perpendicular they are the remains of a battle gained finally by the intuition, since this one is

“the only accurate guide that we have to find the proportions at present. Let’s not allow that artful directives should exist on our intuition. Our intuition is a very refined instrument, comparable to one of these super mechanical brains of IBM replete with correct information. (…) If we were noticing the defenders of the rules of the proportions I suppose that we would reject any response that was not with round numbers”.2

Saarinen stood out from child as draftsman. His eye was educated to look. And his architecture, this that today we admire, reflects in his forms the happiness of dreaming, of exploring new plastic possibilities for the architecture. In every new project it appeared to the precipice that others never warned or that simply they did not want to see. And this way today we have this Gateway Arch in San Luis, real icon of the modernity and extraodinary alone objet trouvé within reach of the daring ones, of which they win to the dread of being wrong. A pity that he it could never be (the work concluded in 1965), though yes it could play with his mock-ups since he it was playing the role of a child on having slipped past under the boards of drawing of the study of his father. Surely there his eye found this intuition of golden proportions.

Saarinen surrounded by his drawings of historical arches, the suspended chain and the models of arches for San Luis’ project

Rodrigo Almonacid [r-arquitectura] · doctor architect

valladolid. february 2014


1 Extract of Saarinen’s unpublished conference declared in 1953 and gathered in: PELKONEN, Eeva-Liisa y ALBRECHT, Donald (ed.): Eero Saarinen. Shaping the future. Yale University Press. 2011. See the appendix “Selected wrintings”, written of the Finnish architect, p. 342. (Translation of the Englishman for the author).

2 To these words they were following a direct critique to the academicismo understood evil and to that Him Corbusier was contributing with his swindlers games of proportions. Íbidem, p. 343. (Translation of the Englishman for the author).

(Teruel, 1974). Licenciado en Arquitectura (1999) con premio extraordinario y Doctor “cum laude” en Arquitectura por la Universidad de Valladolid (2013), compagina su actividad académica como profesor doctor de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Valladolid con la profesional al frente de su propio estudio [r-arquitectura]. Es autor de dos libros: Mies van der Rohe: el espacio de la ausencia (2006); y El paisaje codificado en la arquitectura de Arne Jacobsen (2016). Colaborador habitual en blogs de actualidad y crítica arquitectónica.

Proyecto edificios singulares y sostenibles en mi estudio [r-arquitectura] desde el año 2000 con la colaboración un equipo multidisciplinar de especialistas de acreditada experiencia profesional. [Especialidad: Sector Terciario].

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