[I originally wrote this for my Facebook notes. I like it, and I’m not sure how many people actually read it. You know how Facebook is.]
As we entered the New Year , Todd and I appropriately found ourselves at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts attending EERO SAARINEN: SHAPING THE FUTURE, an exhibit featuring designs, models, and furniture by architect Eero Saarinen and his associates. What I found immediately striking about the exhibit was not only the impressive scope of Saarinen’s work, but also how curiously dated some of it was. And it wasn’t just me. Only a day after seeing the Walker portion of the exhibit, at which I pointed out to Todd how some of the designs reminded me of THE JETSONS, I overheard someone near the TWA terminal designs at the MIA exhibit say, “I can practically see Rosie the Robot . . .”
True, I have little doubt that Saarinen’s more outré designs inspired those in THE JETSONS, but I think his designs have aged poorly less because of Mssrs. Hanna and Barbera and more because of what it means to try to reify the future.
As science fiction writers are undoubtedly aware, nothing dates so quickly as visions of tomorrow. And through his architecture and design, Saarinen wanted to serve as a kind of midwife to the future by using innovative shapes and materials; he wanted to create spaces that would facilitate particular human relationships beneficial to homo faber. Granted, at some level, these goals are similar to those of all great architecture. What dates some of Saarinen’s work is that, rather than giving shape to the future, it gives shape to a fairly recent past that fully believed it could shape the future.
On some very basic level, the future is born now, with every action we make, which sends effects rippling out in all directions. But this isn’t what Saarinen was concerned with. His future was monumental, something that could be erected. In actuality, though, the future is incremental, a dynamic, hydra-like thing that cannot be envisioned, pinned down, or given shape. Often, it even seems to take what the present offers and use it the wrong way, much as a child who opens a Christmas gift and enjoys the box it came in more than the gift itself. This future is the changeling of Saarinen’s, taking its place and allowing it to return only when no one can recognize it any longer, shorn as it is of the weight of the future and replaced instead by the desiccated lightness of the past.