Sons of Koolhaas, Saarinen Explore Fathers’ Works in New Documentaries

Eric Saarinen and Tomas Koolhaas have produced visually-stimulating architectural documentaries that explore their parents' minds and works.

Still from Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future


The relationship between a parent and child has been explored countless numbers of times—in therapy, yes, but also in literature, movies and all sorts of artistic media. This year, two documentaries, by sons of famous architects, explored this often fraught bond. The sons are not just parts of the movies on-screen, but are the filmmakers, directors and curators of photography, visuals and narrative. The results are not just interesting explorations of familial relationships and architectural works, but visually arresting films that aim to  transform their parent’s works, which are static and solid, into something as dynamic and ethereal as moving image.

The first, Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, co-produced by Eric Saarinen, is meant to be a cathartic journey throughout Saarinen’s masterpieces and lesser known works. Shot in 6K with the latest in drone technology, the documentary reveals the beauty that makes Saarinen’s work timeless, from the St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch, to the General Motors Technical Center (Warren, Mich.) to New York’s TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The documentary is reminiscent of 2003’s My Architect: A Son’s Journey, in which Nathaniel Kahn explores the works of his father–Louis Kahn–and, at each stop, discovers an anecdote or design detail that connects him to the father he never really knew. In Saarinen’s words: “Closure was something I didn’t have with my dad. But I forgive him for his genius,” he said.

Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future will be broadcast on PBS December 27 as the last episode of their American Masters 30th anniversary series.

REM, by Tomas Koolhaas, is more of an admiring testimony of a loving son for his visionary dad. Less emotionally involved and more design oriented, REM fits more into the genre of architectural movies that focus on the genius behind the buildings.

Official trailer for ‘REM’ from Tomas Koolhaas on Vimeo.

If these two films aren’t enough to satiate your arch-doc itch, Jim Venturi is also preparing a long form documentary yet to be released. Learning from Bob & Denise will reflect on the couple’s legacy in American architecture as well as their relationship with their son.

Categories: Architecture

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