パナソニック・ホーム エレクトリックワークス社 > Panasonic Shiodome Museum of Art > Exhibitions > Eliel Saarinen and His Beautiful Architecture in Finland

Eliel Saarinen and His Beautiful Architecture in Finland

サーリネンとフィンランドの美しい建築 展

Eliel Saarinen and His Beautiful Architecture in Finland exhibition

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, we would like to request that you reserve the date and time of your visit in advance from our reservation website.

  • The admission fee is to be paid upon your visit.
  • We are not accepting reservations by phone or at the museum reception.

General Information

July 3 - September 20, 2021
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Admittance until 5:30 p.m.)
* Open until 8 p.m. (admittance until 7:30 p.m.) on August 6 and September 3.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019), we will be closed the nighttime opening on Friday, August 6(Friday) and September 3(Friday).
Wednesdays and during August 10 - 3
Adults: ¥800
Visitors aged 65 or over carrying proof of age: ¥700
Students (College): ¥600
Students (High / Middle school): ¥400
Admission is free for children in primary school and younger.
Admission is free for disability passbook holders and up to one accompanying adult.
Panasonic Shiodome Museum of Art
Embassy of Finland, Finnish Institute in Japan, Tokyo, Japan-Suomi Yhdistys, Architectural Institute of Japan, The Japan Institute of Architects, Minato City Board of Education
Planning support
Curators Inc.
Exhibition design
Kubo Tsushima Architects

Exhibition overview

Finland is renowned for its beautiful forests and lakes. It is also home to Finnish modernism, an architectural style that is also popular in Japan. One major figure who helped develop the style was Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950). Saarinen founded an architectural firm with university friends Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren. One of his first jobs at the firm, designing the Finnish pavilion at the 1900 Paris World Fair, won him considerable praise. Initially, Saarinen worked in a style that was dubbed National Romantic, which while influenced by art nouveau was more focused on expressing the country’s traditional cultures. The nationalist ethos behind this style struck a chord with the people of Finland at a time when they were seeking independence from Russia.

Saarinen and his partners eventually built Hvitträsk, a complex designed to be a cross-genre work of art presenting an ideal lifestyle: living quietly in nature inside a home that also served as a venue for social functions with other artists. Saarinen gradually expanded his work into residences, commercial buildings, public buildings, train stations, and urban design. Through this varied portfolio, Saarinen played an important role in modernizing architecture throughout the first half of the 20th century. What began as a multicultural style with a strong focus on traditional Finnish culture gradually morphed into something more distinctive and modernist, presenting a new kind of Finnish identity.

This exhibition focuses on Saarinen’s work in Finland from the time before his emigration to the United States in 1923. Architectural drawings, photographs, and designs of furniture and lifestyle items shed light on Saarinen’s style, at once revolutionary and grounded in nature and the local environment. He was also skilled at using light and shadow to imbue his work with richness. At a time when many people find themselves pausing to rethink their ways of life, visitors may find Saarinen’s works speaking to them at a visceral level.

Prologue Finland, the land of lakes and forests, fostered Saarinen’s philosophy of architecture

Visitors will first be introduced to Finland’s history, culture, and nature, as well as its foundation. The Finns were ruled by Sweden from 1155 and then by Russia from 1809. In 1917, an independent Republic of Finland—or Suomen tasavalta in Finnish, commonly abridged as Suomi—finally emerged. The nationalism behind the push for independence continued to heighten and inflame passions for developing uniquely Finnish arts and culture. This section includes artworks related to the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic that inspired many of Finland’s artists during this time, including Saarinen.

The Finnish Independence Movement—As a Standard Bearer for National Romanticism

The 1900 Paris World Fair launched the 20th century with a tremendous bang. It was here that Saarinen and his friends Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren—who had together opened an architectural firm—designed the Finnish pavilion that brought them considerable attention. This section features a scale model of the pavilion, newly constructed based on information found in contemporary documents. Also featured in this section are materials related to Saarinen and his colleagues’ early works, including the Pohjola Insurance Building—a beautiful, distinctively decorated work of architecture inspired by the Kalevala—and the National Museum of Finland. The latter is a classic example of the Finnish style known as National Romanticism and is presented here with the invaluable original drawing.

Main spiral staircase of Pohjola Insurance Company Bulding
Photo ©︎ Museum of Finnish Architecture / Karina Kurz, 2008

Hvitträsk, A Collaborative Project—Creating an Ideal Artistic Community

Saarinen and his two colleagues built Hvitträsk, a studio-cum-residence for the three friends, on the shores of a beautiful lake west of Helsinki. The building embodied their ideal vision of living in nature. To achieve this vision, the three meticulously designed even the lifestyle elements, in the process creating a cross-genre work of art that evoked the British Arts and Crafts movement. Hvitträsk was the spiritual home of Saarinen’s architecture; he lived there with his family for twenty years, leaving only when he moved to the United States. Even then, he returned to visit the home almost every year. This section features furniture that Saarinen designed and installed in the living room and his bedroom at Hvitträsk. Also featured is a re-creation of the dining room.

“Hvitträsk was all a home could mean to us; there Pipsan and Eero grew up and there Loja and I were united in that spirit which, I like to think, is the fruit of love.” Eliel Saarinen
Hvitträsk, dining room
Photo : Ilari Järvinen / Finnish Heritage Agency, 2012

Residential Architecture—Refining Designs for Living

This section focuses on the homes Saarinen designed while working in Finland. The exhibits reveal Saarinen’s interest in balancing elegant design with modernist rationality to create comfortable interiors. Meanwhile, his detailed perspective drawings of the interiors indicate that Saarinen approached his designs comprehensively, covering even decorative elements. Through photographs, plans, architectural drawings, and other materials, visitors will come to understand the level of refinement in the lifestyle designs Saarinen produced for the Olofsborg residential and commercial complex in Helsinki, as well as individual homes. These are displayed along with tableware, textiles, furniture, and other interior elements that can add personality to a home.

Suur-Merijoki Manor, interior perspective of living room
©Museum of Finnish Architecture

Large Public Projects—The Dawn of Finnish Modernism

In 1904, Saarinen submitted a design for Helsinki Central Station for a competition. Despite winning first place, Saarinen’s proposed design became caught up in a debate over whether such a purely National Romantic exterior was suitable for a public building. The station was not completed for another 15 years, during which Saarinen completely changed his design. The large arch that forms the central entrance—with giant statues holding lanterns on either side—and the inclusion of a clock tower demonstrated that through this project, Saarinen had developed a new kind of Finnish aesthetic. Saarinen was simultaneously involved in designing the infrastructure surrounding the station. His contributions later influenced the city planning of Helsinki following Finland’s independence. This section introduces visitors to these works as well as other public projects Saarinen was involved in, including the Finnish Parliament House—for which he proposed a design—and the Finnish markka banknotes that he designed.

Helsinki Central Station at night, ”The Lantern Bearers” granite sculpture by Emil Wickström
Photo ©︎ Museum of Finnish Architecture / Foto Roos

Epilogue—Saarinen’s Contributions in the New World, America

Saarinen was the runner-up in a 1922 contest for designing the Tribune Tower in Chicago. This inspired him to move in 1923 to the United States, where he explored a new design aesthetic that was not beholden to the modernism that was popular at the time. One of his creations during his time in the United States was the Cranbrook Academy of Art, a pioneering, experimental art school that was the heart of George Booth’s Cranbrook Educational Community. Not only did Saarinen design the campus, he also ended up teaching there, eventually becoming president in 1932. His architectural teachings were eventually inherited by his son, the architect Eero Saarinen, who also studied under him. This section explores the ways in which Saarinen sought to perfect his architectural ambitions in the works he produced in the United States. Select pieces of furniture designed by Eero are also on display.

Chicago Tribune Tower, competition entry, perspective sketch, Museum of Finnish Architecture

Exhibition highlights

1.Re-creations of the Finnish pavilion at the 1900 Paris World Fair

Saarinen and his colleagues built the 40-by-10-meter pavilion along the east-west Rue des Nations on the north bank of the Seine. Its exterior, resembling a medieval church, and the motifs of bears, frogs, squirrels, and other Finnish wildlife found throughout its design embodied the nationalist sentiment that led Finland to independence. The exhibition features both a computer-generated re-creation and a newly built miniature model of the pavilion.

2. Saarinen’s lifestyle designs—the ideals of Britain’s Arts and Crafts movement come to life

In the late 19th century, the British textile designer William Morris sought to achieve his idealized vision of lifestyles furnished with beautiful, handcrafted items featuring medieval styles. However, he was too much of an idealist to fully achieve his vision. Saarinen and other Nordic designers, however, brought Morris’s vision to life by developing successful cooperative frameworks between art and industry. The exhibition features numerous lifestyle items that were produced through such collaboration, from furniture to ceramic ware to textiles.

3. An exploration of Saarinen’s role in establishing Finnish modernism

Finnish modern design—often associated with the architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976)—originated from the elegant, distinctively Finnish designs that Saarinen produced. The exhibition explores these designs from a number of different angles.

“The impression made upon me by those architectural drawings was indelible. I became aware, so early, of the work of Eliel Saarinen.” Alvara Aalto, 1946

4. An exhibition layout designed by the young and talented Kubo Tsushima Architects

Kubo Tsushima Architects—Hideaki Kubo and Yumi Tsushima—provided an exhibition layout inspired by the lakes of Finland, a symbol of the country’s resplendent natural environment. Another motif included in the layout design are the doors, windows, and other openings in Saarinen’s buildings, features that are distinctive in his works.


Online lecture
Finnish pavilion at the World EXPO 1900 - multilayered art, social networks, and hidden messages

オンライン講演会 「1900年パリ万国博覧会フィンランド館―芸術家たちのネットワークと込められたメッセージ」

Video availability: 10 a.m. on July 4, 2021, to 6 p.m. on July 6, 2021

Duration: 1 h. 25 min.

Viewers are forbidden from making video or audio recordings of the lecture, capturing still images from the video, or transferring or replicating the video without authorization.

The Finnish pavilion at the World Exhibition in Paris 1900 was a huge effort and succeeded partly because of social networks. It was a complete work of art that manifested the true Finnishness in architecture, handicraft and design, visual arts, and music. The artists worked tirelessly, and the result was - magnificent! How did they succeed? What was the idea behind the architecture and the art presented in the pavilion? How did the networks of artists contribute to the creation of the overall work of art?

Dr. Anna-Maria Wiljanen (Art historian and director of the Finnish Institute in Tokyo)

Ph.D., M.Sc. Anna-Maria Wiljanen was appointed to the position as the Director of the Finnish Institute in Japan in January 1st, 2018. She defended her doctoral dissertation in art history at the University of Helsinki 2014. Wiljanen also holds a Master’s degree in Political science with economics as her major.
Wiljanen has previously worked as the Executive Director of the UPM Kymmene Cultural Foundation in Helsinki, Finland. Before UPM Cultural Foundation she worked 10 years at the Finnish National Gallery in various positions, for example as a deputy Head of Development and as a Communication Manager.
Wiljanen was the president of Eunic Japan 2019-2020.
Wiljanen’s research interests are European Artists’ colonies during 19th century, social networks, women artists and women's empowerment, the mobility between artists and artists' houses.

Onnea! Celebrate the birthday of Saarinen and his son

Eliel Saarinen shared a birthday with his son Eero, the famed architect behind the TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport. On August 20, we will be inviting visitors to say a posthumous “Onnea!”—Finnish for “Congratulations!”—to the two Saarinens by having their picture taken at a custom made booth, providing visitors with a birthday message they can share on social media. Use the hashtags #SaarinenBirthday and #HappyBirthdaySaarinens!