Eero Saarinen By Jayne Merkel.Phaidon, 2005. £45
Eero Saarinen has been in and out of fashion like a yo-yo since his death in 1961 when only 51, an age at which most architects are just beginning to make their names. His great range and pioneering approach to almost every building type he approached should have made him a model for the Post-Modernists, his Miesian corporate and education buildings should have endeared him to the New Moderns, his structural expressionism should have made him a darling of the current Modernist organicists.
But it hasn't always worked like that and Saarinen remains very much in the shadow of Mies, Breuer, Kahn, Aalto et al.
If anything, like Breuer, his furniture has become better known than his architecture.
The exception perhaps is the TWA terminal at JFK airport, now abandoned and about to be moved and incorporated into a new scheme, probably as a dead duck.
Nevertheless, its survival at all is testament to its wider reputation; it now appears in films, fashion shoots and advertising campaigns. With the confluence of all these things, and a general interest in everything mid-century, Saarinen follows on from Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Arne Jacobsen in being due a major revival.
Merkel's book is not the first symptom of this - Laurence King has published a monograph on the semi-famous Finn by Antonio Roman (AJ 19.06.03). Visually, that book is the more coherent. Black-andwhite throughout, it makes more use of stunning contemporary images of Saarinen's buildings, which coincided with the greatest period of US architectural photography (Balthazar Korab, Ezra Stoller and others).
But, despite appearances, Merkel's book is by far the better. Unpretentious and mercifully uninhabited with architect-speak, it follows its subject's career from his father Eliel's Finnish office, with its monumental National Romanticism, through the transition to the US and a father and son practice and onto Eero's individual career.
And what a career it was.
He effectively invented the lowrise corporate campus (with complexes for General Motors, IBM and Bell), a typology now being revived as a response to corporate caution on skyscrapers following 9/11.
He pioneered the use of cast stone and of Cor-Ten steel (the latter at tractor company John Deere) and at Dulles and JFK airports he developed a neoexpressionist language, without which it would be hard to imagine the transport structures of Calatrava or Foster, perhaps even the concrete fluidity of Zaha Hadid's recent work. He also designed some of the very few beautiful ecclesiastical buildings of the era.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Saarinen attempted to embody the nature of his clients and of the sites in his commissions.
He arrived at a Miesian solution where appropriate, or at sculptural expressionism where that seemed more apt.
This architecture parlante became particularly unfashionable - perceived as a kind of dilettantism - but it also meant that he failed to develop the signature style so key to a myth of immortality.
Saarinen had something for everyone - monumentalism, expressionism, minimalism, contextualism - and it's all covered and richly illustrated here, in a rewarding, sympathetic survey that brings the architect to life.
I liked an anecdote told by director Elia Kazan about Saarinen giving a presentation about a scheme for the Lincoln Center Repertory Theater.
'A member of the client's committee interrupted him and asked him if he could talk a little faster. Saarinen listened to the question politely, puffing his pipe, then said calmly, 'No? But I can say less'.' Edwin Heathcote is the architecture correspondent for the Financial Times