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As Saarinen's contemporaries long ago discovered, there is a dynamo of relentless energy behind his easygoing façade. A round-the-clock worker, he sets such high standards of perfection that on occasion he holds his draftsmen and designers at their drafting tables straight through the night, is so prodigal with money for research that he recently spent $12,000 to win a competition that guaranteed only $4,000 in expenses. But judged by the results, Saarinen's total approach pays off. His work has won the applause of the glass and steel purists, yet pleased clients who include small-town bankers, a Midwest Lutheran synod, university presidents, and the giants among U.S. corporationsGeneral Motors, T.W.A., International Business Machines et al.
In a highly competitive profession, where awards mean prestige, Eero Saarinen & Associates is a consistent winner. This spring the firm added another rich harvest of first-place laurels, including 1) the Grand Architectural Award from the Boston Arts Festival, for Saarinen's Massachusetts Institute of Technology cylindrical brick chapel (selected earlier this year by the National Council of Churches as one of the best churches built in the last 25 years); 2) first place in the top-drawer competition for the new U.S. London embassy (TIME, March 19).
Grapefruit & Grace. Architect Saarinen sleeps, eats and dreams architecture, reduces just about every experience in life to architectural terms, reaches for the nearest napkin or note pad to graph everything from adolescent rates of learning to the qualities that make up a beautiful woman. Last week, as his wife watched with fascination, he casually turned over his breakfast grapefruit, began carving out elliptical parabolic arches which he then carried off to the office to see if they might do as an idea for the office model of T.W.A.'s new terminal at Idlewild.
Such complete absorption gives Saarinen the bemused air of the absent-minded professor. Flying out last April to see the site of the new Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs (on which he is an architectural consultant), he suddenly turned to his companions, asked: "Just who is Grace Kelly?" Next day he told his wife earnestly: "I really didn't know Kay Francis was marrying that Prince."
Saarinen is absorbed day and night in the problem of visualization, likes to start working early with models, is notoriously extravagant with paper. In a single evening he will run through 170 ft. of tracing paper; he made more than 2,000 drawings in revising his plan for the London embassy. A girl in his office, whose desk Saarinen sometimes uses late at night, inevitably knows when he has been there. Says she: "It's like slicing down through the excavations at Troytracing paper, tobacco, paper, paper, matches, more paper, a cigar stub, paper, paper, paper."