Saarinen’s War Memorial in Milwaukee: A Case Study
Eero Saarinen’s War Memorial and Art Museum building in Milwaukee was one of his first commissions after Eliel’s death in 1950. The building opened in 1957, and it demonstrated Saarinen’s perceptive use of innovative structural forms and the expressive potential of concrete form in the modelled geometry of the piers and cantilevers. The work also showed an attention to civic and public social space more sensitively than other brutalist architecture. An addition in 1975 provided much needed space, but significantly changed the civic space and entry sequence, and considerably diluted the strength of Saarinen’s composition. Recently, the building has been largely overshadowed by Calatrava’s addition of 2001. Even before that, the Milwaukee building did not receive the attention of other examples of Saarinen’s work, overshadowed by major commissions like TWA and the MIT work. In spite of this lack of attention, the building was a significantly successful example of mid-century expressively brutalist architecture. It explored some of the motifs of Le Corbusier’s early work and predated some of the later explorations in concrete of Le Corbusier and Breuer.
Earnest's presentation reviewed the design and construction of the original Saarinen building for Milwaukee, situating it both in the context of post-war monumental architecture and in the context of Saarinen’s oeuvre: The building’s design includes a major urban space and civic plaza connected to a central atrium space that was the intended entrance. This atrium is surrounded by four cantilevered boxes raised on polyhedral pilotis above the base (originally, the museum was in the base and the raised portions were offices for the veteran’s memorial). Unlike some of it brutalist peers, the building has remained popular and well regarded in Milwaukee.
While the building is formally successful, it also demonstrates some of the technical challenges of concrete brutalism for thermal and moisture control. While the facility is undergoing its third major expansion of its sixty year history, this case study offers an opportunity to situate the building in its time as an example of post-war expressive concrete construction and as an example of a masterwork by Eero Saarinen.
Prefab Pipedreams? Selling the Factory-Made House in Postwar America
During the housing crisis of the 1930s, and again during the building-boom of the postwar years, designs for a factory-made house offering “better living” for American families that could be built cheaper and faster than traditional construction occupied the center of discourse in architectural and building trade journals. Throughout the 1930s, prefabricated homes were showcased at department stores, spread across the pages of shelter magazines, and praised in newspapers nationwide. Public institutions and private corporations likewise became increasingly invested in research on prefabricated housing.