Response to Susan Saarinen, Eero’s Daughter

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December 27th, 2010

Susan Saarinen


You ask:  "You've been in touch with so many of Eero's colleagues of late.  Do you know anyone who remembers what Eero had in mind for the east side?"   I will allow your father and his colleagues to answer.   When your dad presented his revised plan in model form at the Old Courthouse, he said, "One cannot think of the Park alone.  The Park, City, the west side of the Mississippi, the east side-these are all parts of one composition."  THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE REPORT of the NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, published in 1996. (see related quotes in Allen Dehar and John Buenz letters).   Although I do not have the quote, when it became obvious that the east side had been eliminated from the competition, he called upon the leaders of the east side communities to band together to develop a visionary solution for the east side related to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.  Unfortunately, they never did that.

The vast majority of Eero's colleagues have told me that they believed your father would have approved of my Eco Arch because his expressed desire was to see the composition he designed include something of scale compatible with his Design across the river to the east.

* Ralph Rapson wrote in 1992, "I am writing this letter of endorsement in support of Saunders Schultz's exciting proposal for the East St.Louis waterfront. The design is not only a functional space to house cultural activities, but an exciting and visionary symbol signifying the unity of the two cities embracing the Mississippi river.  The proposal with its great expanse of green park would provide a magnificent backdrop and continuation of Eero Saarinen's powerful arch.

My perspective of the proposal is based on my background of fifty years as a practicing architect and head of the University of Minnesota School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and as a personal friend and professional associate of Eero Saarinen.  I feel that Eero Saarinen would strongly approve of this creative complement to his masterpiece.  I gladly pledge my support to nurturing this idea to maturity" .

Ralph was one of my dearest friends for fifty years.  He made calls and wrote supportive letters- one to the St. Louis Post Dispatch the week he died in 2008.  When I asked how he could be so sure, he said he was at times your father's collaborator and partner and knew as well as anyone, his dear friend, Eero would welcome my concept.  Many times he would invite me to collaborate on a project with his students,  Once he invited me to drive to Minneapolis to be with him when he was awarded the American Institute of Architecture's Gold Medal.  He visited us and enjoyed his tour of Cahokia and the St. Louis and East St. Louis riverfronts.  Please read all the supportive letters from your father's architects.  The strongest, of course, are the ones who worked with him on the Arch and those that remember his direct quotes. 

Examples:* Robert Burley, FAIA, Eero Saarinen's designer-in-charge for the JNEM and the Arch. "Your Eco Arch idea has genuine merit.  It creates a visual link to the eastern river bank, without attempting to compete with the Memorial itself.  The act of gently tilting an on-axis green space towards the Arch strengthens that link and enhances the view of the Memorial.  East St. Louis is really front and center for one of the great urban spectacles in the United States- only the seats have been missing!

How would Eero and Dan react?  No one can say for certain, but it is my opinion that they would react very favorably to your sculptural-landscape concepts."

* Allen J. Dehar FAIA, NCARB,  ' Eero Saarinen expressed, " The other side of the river- East St. Louis-must be brought into the whole composition.  We must make this a great green park." (August 19, 1961) ' 

"As a Saarinen alumnus and a member of the design team that brought the gateway Arch to reality, I support your alternative design for a larger park site than the competition proposes for the East St. Louis site.  I also endorse a park site that would reinforce the axis of the Arch and the Old Courthouse, so elegantly strengthened by your landscaped pedestrian bridge.  The proposed Eco Arch design would provide a conceptual bridge westerly across the river to the monumental park base beneath the Arch, all in keeping with Eero's expressed desire."  Before he died recently, Allen called to express how much our friendship meant to him and, along with Ralph and many others, thanked me for working so diligently all these years, 27 to be exact, to help save Saarinen's legacy as well as the heart of our region.   

* Bruce R. Detmers, "I was involved with the Arch project for eight years prior to and after the death of Eero Saarinen.  I believe that Eero would have been enthusiastic about your proposed development of the site opposite the Jefferson Memorial and would have wanted the development in East St. Louis to be on axis with the Arch and Old Courthouse."

* (another excellent Saarinen quote): John Buenz Chairman Emeritus Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Chicago.  " Let me begin with a quote from Eero himself:" "I see architecture not as a building alone, but the building in relation to it's surroundings, whether nature or man-made surroundings.  I believe very strongly that the single building must be carefully related to the whole in the out-door space it creates." (Eero Saarinen & His Work by Aline Saarinen)  "Out of respect for Eero and his magnificent St. Louis Gateway Arch, I am honored to be asked to join the Saarinen alumni team you are assembling.  I would be pleased to help bring your Eco Arch concept to reality by extending Eero's broad-spectrum approach to combining architecture-with-environment.   The Eco Arch concept, symmetrically located directly across the Mississippi river from the Gateway Arch and Park, definitely respects Ero's planning/design philosophy as does the landscaped bridge leading east from the old court house.

I believe your Eco Arch City Center Park could transform East St. Louis as did Prospect Park in Brooklyn, N. Y.  Eero would be most gratified."

John and I speak often and he gives me excellent suggestions on the ongoing direction of the Eco Arch.  He also contacts the other Saarinen architects.

There are not that many Saarinen colleagues left.  It is almost impossible to get twenty architects, or any professionals, to agree on anything, yet most have agreed that the Eco Arch would have your dad's approval.  This is amply stated in Robert Ziegelman's letter.

Examples:* Robert L. Ziegelman, FAIA,  "As the only Saarinen alumnus creating a documentary on Eero Saarinen, I have spoken to many of the twenty architects you have contacted.  It is extraordinary to read that we all agree on so many points.

I am honored to join them in stating that I agree that Eero and Dan Kiley would approve of your Eco Arch development as well as your pedestrian bridge linking the Arch and the Old Court House.

It is also my belief that the National Park Service's competition is designed whereby Eero and Dan could not have participated as an entrant."  (This was a belief expressed by almost every Saarinen architect.)

* Norbert Blum, (with Eero Saarinen from 1960 to 1960)  "Neither could the Saarinen proposal have been selected, designed or built without a hopeful expectation that someday the National Park Service could find a more appropriate distant location on the monument's east-west axis in East St. Louis.

...your Eco Arch proposal and your simple landscaped bridge do nothing to diminish or detract from Eero Saarinen's monumental achievement and everything to complete and enhance its commemorative intentions.  They are exactly the solution Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley would have recommended or designed had the competition requirements been a little less severe."

* Norman Perttula, FAIA,  "It is of key importance that any proposed developments must be harmonious and sensitive to that which exists, any adverse effects can not be tolerated.

I am pleased to join the ranks of my former colleagues who had the pleasure and honor to work at the Eero Saarinen and associates office in Michigan, and who are in support of your design proposal for the Eco Arch concept.  I feel that the Eco Arch plan direction is respectful of the original established design principles, and would receive the approval of both Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley." 

  * Jack Goldman,  "I cannot overemphasize the concern that many of us have for maintaining the strength of the simplification of the East St. Louis Eco Arch proposal.  If allowed free reign to the East St. Louis designs, the NPS competition can only prove to be a major detriment to the quality and beauty of Eero's arch and site.  Besides the Eco Arch, I believe that Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley would also approve of the Lid Bridge connecting the Arch and the Old Court House."

* Glen Paulson,AIA, Principal, Project Architect that I collaborated with on TE DEUM, at you father's Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  "Your concern for the preservation of Eero Saarinen's masterpiece is shared by all of us. The fact that it was completed as he envisioned was a miracle in itself.  It is a remarkable achievement and I feel that it should remain as it is for the foreseeable future.

To quote Allen Dehar from his letter to you of February 6, 2010:

As a Saarinen alumnus and a member of the design team that brought  the Gateway Arch to reality, I support your alternative design ...( see Allen Dehar letter)  ...  The proposed Eco Arch design would provide a conceptual bridge westerly across the river to the monumental park base beneath the Arch, all in keeping with Eero's expressed desire."  Collaborating on that project was an exciting highlight in my career. Glen wrote of that experience, “ The sculpture for Eero Saarinen’s Concordia Senior College is an appropriate integration of art and architecture which has stood well the test of time.  Unlike most sculptors, Schultz is concerned with creating art that derives its meaning and character from its surroundings.  His sculpture makes a notable contribution to the current state of art.”

* Balthazar Korab Ltd.,  Saarinen architect and photographer. "Thank you for your impressive portfolio of the Eco Arch project.    It is my pleasure to join with my old Saarinen friends endorsing your Eco Arch and bridge projects.  I also feel that .   It complements beautifully the Saarinen monument and extends the concept east of the Mississippi tying it in with all of the southern Illinois sites, such as Cahokia Mounds, as your simple and logical lid-bridge extends it to engage the Old Courthouse.  Your Eco Arch site would become an elegant destination place for all visitors, who would then proceed through the "Arch" and on to the great western National Parks.

It is my pleasure to join with my old  Saarinen friends endorsing your Eco Arch and bridge projects.  I believe that Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley would consider your solution appropriate."

Balthazar was enthusiastic about the Eco Arch. He sent me sheets with his favorite photos of the Arch and asked me to choose two.  Then he sent me those two as signed originals and told me that I could use them in my Eco Arch booklet.  One is on the cover.

* Frederick Kubitz, AIA, NCARB, Frederick is the only architect who has written two letters to date.  The first, dated January 24th, 2010, stated, " I feel a bond with my fellow colleagues who along with me worked in the "cultural oasis" known as Eero Saarinen & Associates… Under the direction of Eero Saarinen these men and woman experienced first-hand the creative process that went into making each and every architectural project unique.  Saunders Schultz was one of these individuals who observed that process and understood how it led ultimately to the creation of the catenary curve that was to become the Jefferson National Monument.

After reviewing the plans for your Eco Arch development, I believe this concept is a viable solution that would enhance the importance of this great monument for both the surrounding communities and the nation at large.   Rarely does one find individuals with the kind of commitment exhibited by the Schultz/Wofford team:  A team who has the talent and wisdom to undertake such a project.  As Eero said " There is no vision too large"

Even though Frederick felt he had indicated your father's reaction to the Eco Arch, I told him of your request and asked him what design qualities Eero Saarinen would have desired that would make the Eco Arch a valid development for the East St. Louis riverfront.  On January 5th, 2011, he wrote, "As you know, I was a member of the architectural firm of Eero Saarinen and Assoc. from 1955-59 where I participated in the design of a number of the firm's projects including the London Embassy competition, TWA Flight Center, Dulles International Airport and an IBM manufacturing Facility in Rochester,MN.

No one can know how Eero and Dan Kiley might have responded to the program as set forth, however, I do know their design solution would have been innovative, enduring, harmonious and appropriate.

I support your efforts to create a design concept that will echo the scope and scale of Eero's magnificent monument.   Planners for the future of the Jefferson Memorial must not be restricted by present day barriers that limit the full potential for this great monument and park.  Imagine, if our forefathers had decided to extend the Washington Mall by creating a bird sanctuary.  What would we have today?"

Especially pertinent are Kubitz's recent comments.  He understood that I had been working all these years to save Saarinen's legacy.  That said, he stated that in reality I am working to save the legacy of our regional leaders on both sides of the Mississippi. "If they allow the winning NPS design, which basically recycles what already exists to be built, their historic legacy will be mediocrity.

  1. *Peter van Dijk, FAIA, “ I support an alternative design such as your Eco Arch proposal on axis and its extension to the west by a bridge to the courthouse.

Your plan would be a better guide for future development of East St. Louis.  The goal must be to enhance Eero’s original idea without upstaging the magnificent Arch”

  1. *Lenard S. Parker, FAIA, AIAMN,  “ Your design for the Eco Arch on the opposite side of the Mississippi from Eero Saarinen’s St, Louis Arch is a fitting complement to the Jefferson National expansion Memorial.  Your recommendations for reconnecting the arch grounds back into downtown  St. Louis would benefit both.

The extent of the Eco Arch site as you have designed it appears to relate across the river in a better fashion than the site proposed by the National Park Service site.   I believe that the inclusion of additional property towards the Eads Bridge to the north as envisioned in the Eco Arch proposal would enhance development on the east side of the river and allow better views from and a better relationship with the Jefferson Arch and arch grounds.

After reviewing the plans for your Eco Arch development, I believe this concept is a viable solution that would enhance the importance of this great monument for both the surrounding communities and the nation as at large.”

* Harold Tsuchiya,  “ As a Saarinen Alumnus (1950-19550), I support the alternative design concept of your Eco Arch on axis with Eero’s Monument and the extension of the grass Plaza on the west by the bridge and the Courthouse.

I join with other Saarinen friends in endorsing your Eco Arch and bridge projects,”

* Edward Saad, “ I was fortunate to have worked for Eero Saarinen for over ten years.

No doubt, Eero’s Arch is among the world’s most cherished monuments and must not be diminished by mediocre developments around its site.  I believe your proposed Eco Arch concept across the river and Lid bridge tie from the Arch to the Old Courthouse are compatible and respectful of the Arch, thus worthy of serious consideration.”

  1. *Neils Diffrient, “The St. Louis Arch has become even greater and more appreciated with the passage of time.  I’m aware that you appreciate its importance in your proposals for the East St. Louis waterfront and your landscaped pedestrian bridge linking the Arch  to the Old Courthouse, and your work is directed to respecting and enhancing the quality of Saarinen’s vision.

Other designs that do not appear to sustain this important relationship should not be considered, even if they are more expedient.  This is not a good enough reason reason to compromise a national treasure.”

*Norman Pertula, FAIA,  “ The Gateway Arch as designed by Eero Saarinen has become a powerful iconic symbol.

It is of key importance that any proposed developments must be harmonious and sensitive to that which exists, any adverse effects cannot be tolerated.

I am pleased to join the ranks of my former colleagues who had the pleasure and honor to work at the Eero Saarinen and Associate office, and who are in support of your design proposal for the Eco Arch concept.  I feel that the Eco Arch plan direction is respectful of the original established design principals, and would receive the approval of both Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley.”

*Roger T. Johnson, “I am in agreement that the East St. Louis site should be on the Arch/Courthouse axis as proposed.  I am also in agreement that an architectural competition would not be my first choice when members of the original team are still active and so well informed.

Because all of those involved are in their 80’s, I believe the most suitable arrangement would be a consortium of the original participants, your office and others who might be active when the proposed project were executed in a few years down the road.

I believe ypur enphasis on a single strong architectural statement on both sides of the river is very appropriate.   The simpler the better so as not to detract  from the Saarrrinen Kiley team solution.”

*Gunner Birkerts,  “ I admire your 28 year, ( now 31) effort to protect the East St. Louis Riverfront Development.   The proposed Competition program should include your 100 acre site development.  If respected, it would allow to maintain the needed symmetry to the design concept for theb East bank.  Also,I hope the National Park Service competition will benefit from your Design thoughts.”

* Gene Festa, “The fact that Eero’s design was completed in it’s completed form is a synergistic miracle.  The present delineation of the competition site for future development opens the possibility for an unfortunate outcome.   The open question may be whether another miracle is in the air”

*Cesar Pelli, FAIA.  “You can add my name to those who appose the planned competition in front of Eero Saarinen’s Arch.  I believe the results could be very harmful.”

To see my connection to Saarinen, see Schultz-Saarinen Connection.

Susan, you may also enjoy this from George Hoover, FAIA, winner, Progressive Architecture Design Award.  It is my favorite quote concerning the similarity to the way your father and I would approach a design challenge.  “ Charles Eames said, “Each of Eero Saarinen’s buildings is a model of its special problems.  His shortcut was that he put more energy into clarifying the unique nature of each problem.  The process was free from preconceptions and open to new concepts.”     Sandy has these same qualities.    I have been impressed by the extraordinary variety of his work in concept and execution.  He discusses each work in the context of the particular circumstances surrounding it, his search for the unique problem to be solved and his struggle to find the form that will underlie a solution.   His ‘style’ is of this process, as was Saarinen’s.

Now you will understand just what type of development Eero Saarinen would have wanted on the east side.   Do you believe Eero would opt for the Eco Arch which, with surrounding development, would generate billions of dollars to a dying city - or a bird sanctuary which would generate tons of avian fertilizer?  Here is a quote from Mr Bradley from his letter to me on October 22, 2009, "...we have to keep so many things in mind; suitability for the site, compatibility with the existing Saarinen/Kiley plan..."  Can any one explain why not ONE Saarinen colleague, even those who collaborated on the Arch, was not consulted or invited to be on the competition jury.?  All the architects I contacted told me they weren't even approached.  It gives me great satisfaction to know that I had a strong bond with many of Eero's former designers.  Ralph Rapson and Glen Paulson, who I had collaborated with on the Concordia Senior College in Ft. Wayne, IN, had been friends before the other Saarinen colleagues had written to me,  Alan Dehar and John Buenz became my good friends afterwards.  In 1989 the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Landscape Architecture invited me to deliver a keynote address titled, PASSAGES on GATEWAYS.   Because of my sculpture at Concordia and my having been from the ' Gateway City' where I watched the Arch being built, I was asked to pay special tribute to your father, his Arch and how he happened to come upon the catenary form.  I was in touch with eight architects from the Saarinen office. George Spacek, who worked on the final version of the Gateway Arch was the most helpful on that presentation.

The most telling letter concerning the bridge, I believe, was from Bob Burley: " A strong connection across Memorial Drive was always anticipated, as evidenced by the landscape plan and actual grading. … the NPS 1996 Cultural Landscape Report includes six of my alternative drawings, one of which is attached.   You will find my conclusion agrees with yours - there is no need or benefit in burying Memorial Drive.”

Finally, you should see this symbol of the mind set and vision of our local paper.  St. Louis Post Dispatch, 09. 06. 2010. (lead editorial- first paragraph) “FOOD FOR THOUGHT”

The Cargill grain elevator directly across from the Arch on the Illinois bank of the Mississippi River makes some people grumpy.  They see it as a blight on the river vista as they gaze across the river from downtown St. Louis.  They think it detracts from the elegant lines of the Gateway Arch and landscaped grounds.  It never bothered me.  When I look at the grain elevator, I see agriculture at work in the heart of the American heartland.  I see it as a central part of the story that the Gateway Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial are intended to symbolize, interpret and celebrate.    It’s the part with the most promise for the national park re-vitalization now underway” proudly signed, Eddie Roth, editorial writer.


Saunders Schultz
Susan Saarinen, Saunders Schultz with her father's Arch in background.