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Fall architecture highlights: Two tours and a blockbuster exhibit

If the crisp fall air whets our mental appetite, two architectural tours and one blockbuster exhibit will go far to satisfy it.

Deere and Company Administrative Center, Moline, Illinois, circa 1963

Courtesy Eero Saarinen Collection, Yale University
Deere and Co. Administrative Center, Moline, Ill., circa 1963.

If the crisp fall air whets our mental appetite, two architectural tours and one blockbuster exhibit will go far to satisfy it.

The work of Finnish modern architect Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) is so all-encompassing that the traveling exhibit “Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future” is split between the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It runs through Jan. 4, 2009.

Eero Saarinen was the son of the also famous Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, who made the Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the cradle of American modernism. They collaborated until Eliel died in 1950. Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood was the last completed work of the father-son team.

It’s been 36 years since a major collaboration between the two institutions, noted Kaywin Feldman, the MIA’s new director. “It won’t be another 36,” she promised. It’s hard to know who got the better half.

The Walker displays Saarinen’s iconic modernist furniture, such as the womb chair and pedestal table; photos and models of his corporate buildings, such as the blue glass IBM training facility in Rochester, Minn., and the $1 billion General Motors campus in Michigan; his religious and academic work, such as the round Kresge Chapel at M.I.T; and his residential designs, including the highly influential Irwin Miller house in Columbus, Ind.

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Innovation, for a purpose
He loved to innovate, but for a reason: We see the first use of a super-thin curtain wall at the IBM plant, the first use of mirrored glass for Bell Telephone, the use of a thin-shell concrete structure for the Yale University hockey rink, the introduction of a sunken conversation pit in the Miller house. These innovations have become such integral parts of our design lives that we hardly attribute them to an individual. (Imagine any modern furniture store without a pedestal table.) See more here.

The Institute offers large models and photos of Saarinen’s most iconic structures: the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport, Dulles Airport and, of course, the St. Louis Arch, which MIA curator Jennifer Komar Olivarez called a quintessential modern monument. “He was inspired by classical solutions – what seemed right, what seemed timely,” she said. His words: “Here at the edge of the Mississippi River, a great arch did seem right.”

Colleagues with Minnesota ties
A more personal look at Saarinen and his early years designing furniture for Cranbrook is offered in another gallery next to the Institute’s exquisite modern design collection. A video includes comments from Saarinen colleagues with Minnesota ties including Leonard Parker, architect of the Minneapolis Convention Center; Cesar Pelli, architect of the Minneapolis Central Library and Wells Fargo Center; Gunnar Birkerts, architect of the 1973 Federal Reserve Bank; and the late Ralph Rapson, longtime head of the University of Minnesota architecture school and architect of the 1963 Guthrie Theater. Even a quick perusal of the sprawling exhibit will leave an indelible impression: Saarinen did shape our modern world.

A major symposium Oct. 10 to Oct. 12 will offer further presentations on Saarinen, including a talk by his longtime photographer Balthazar Korab, and tours of Christ Church Lutheran (For more information and tickets for the Saturday program visit here or call 612-870-6323. Friday and Sunday events are free).

Have a look
Two tours offer a chance to become architecture voyeurs.

21840 Byron Circle in Greenwood, Minnesota

Courtesy of Nemer Fieger
A home at 21840 Byron Circle in Greenwood, Minnesota designed by Charles Stinson, AIA.

From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday, 29 architects will open homes designed for themselves and others to the public. (Count ’em here.) It’s a cornucopia of riches, from suburban spreads to riverfront lofts, from the modest to the immodest. Where to start? Buy tickets ($25) at a Twin Cities Originals restaurant  or at any of the houses on the tour. For information, call Jennifer Gilhoi at the American Institute of Architects-Minnesota, 612-338-6763.

With its horizontal lines and Arts and Crafts aesthetic, the Prairie School was a quintessentially Midwestern architectural style. From noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 4, five historic homes designed by Prairie School architects Purcell, Feick and Elmslie will be open for the Prairie Living Historic Home Tour offered by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. Tickets ($15 in advance and $20 on the day of the tour) can be purchased online or by calling 651-293-9047.