Architecture

Eero Saarinen was born in Finland in 1910, and came to America in 1923 after his father won a substantial prize in a Chicago architectural competition. Soon Eliel was at work on designing and administering Cranbrook, an extensive educational complex emphasizing architecture and design in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, the brainchild of Detroit newspaper publisher George Booth. Eero Saarinen assisted with designs for Cranbrook beginning in the 1920s; he went on to study sculpture in France prior to enrolling in the Yale School of Architecture. Eero collaborated with his father on many projects, but in 1948 he won the competition for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial with the soaring majesty of his St. Louis Gateway Arch, a design submitted independently of his father. The Arch brought Eero national attention and helped establish his reputation as an architect in his own right.

Throughout his career, he worked fluently within the austere geometry of international Modernism, but also created highly expressive and boldly sculptural buildings. In addition to the Miller House and St. Louis Gateway Arch he designed such landmarks as the Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. Kevin Roche (b. 1922 ), Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect, became Saarinen's principal design associate when he joined Eero Saarinen and Associates in 1950, and Roche played a significant role in the design of Miller House as well as many other Saarinen projects.

Miller House & Garden Blueprint

Miller House and Garden site plan by Dan Kiley, Miller House and Garden Collection, IMA Archives.

A system of cruciform structural steel columns establishes a grid that informs the structure of the house. The geometry of the house’s plan and its orientation to the landscape on multiple axes recalled to some Andrea Palladio’s sixteenth-century Villa Rotunda at Vicenza, Italy. Interior walls echo the lines of this grid without following them exactly. Each corner of the grid is occupied by a function requiring privacy: master, family, and guest bedrooms, and a kitchen/service area. The central, open space of the floor grid contains the main living area of the house, which in turn flows into a dining area to the north, a sitting room to the south, and outward to a terrace on the west that overlooks the house’s most significant view, a vista down a precisely angled embankment and across a broad, flat lawn that sweeps away to an irregular fringe of trees along the distant Flatrock River.

The interior’s remarkable sense of soft, even light is the result of a skylight system that crosses the roof along the lines of the structural grid, and which allows panels of the ceiling to appear to float unsupported by adjacent walls. A sunken conversation pit just to the west of the main living area allows for copious seating without the visual clutter that would result from additional groupings of chairs, sofas, and tables.