It’s Not An Easy Job

Marianna Janowicz

Review: When Eero Met His Match: Aline Louchheim Saarinen and the Making of an Architect by Eva Hagberg. Princeton University Press, 232 pp. $33

Within professional settings, we are culturally conditioned to discredit the personal. We are encouraged to understand romantic entanglements as diluting professional achievements and to undervalue the roles traditionally taken on by wives. This bias results in systemic erasure of wives’ achievements when they form professional partnerships with their spouses. Not only are wives undervalued in performing caring and supporting roles, they also suffer erasure when in professional roles while working in partnership with their husbands. Denise Scott Brown was infamously excluded from the Pritzker Prize when it was awarded to Robert Venturi, and Patty Hopkins was blatantly edited out of a photograph for a BBC program titled The Brits Who Built Modern Britain. It seems that the architectural discourse cannot hold both roles simultaneously: a woman is either a wife or a professional collaborator. Many studies seeking to address the erasure of women focus on their professional achievements to prove the point that they deserve to be remembered not only as wives but also as designers in their own right. A new book by Eva Hagberg, When Eero Met His Match: Aline Louchheim Saarinen and the Making of an Architect*, refuses to pander to this rigid frame.

When Eero Met His Match is described in the publisher’s blurb as “both a poignant love story and a superb biographical study” and on the author’s website as a “hybrid biography,” but the book truly evades clear classification. The publication traces the career of the titular Aline Louchheim Saarinen, architect Eero Saarinen’s second wife and eventual publicist, but it is more broadly about the relationship between design, language, and narration. Shorter autobiographical chapters weave through the main story line, detailing the author’s experience as an architectural journalist and publicist.

Aline and Eero met in 1953 when they were scheduled for an interview about his recently completed General Motors Technical Centre. At the time, Louchheim was associate art critic and editor at The New York Times and recently divorced. After the meeting and until they got married and moved in together in 1954, Eero and Aline exchanged many letters, now archived at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. The letters are sweet and affectionate, like the one on the first page of Hagberg’s book, which features two cut-and-pasted hearts pierced by an arrow, but they are also professional: Aline and Eero continued to work together. The book focuses on Aline and mainly quotes her letters. They are full of love, ambition, power, and drive all at the same time. Some of them, Hagberg shows, were partially job applications. Aline was not only coveting the role of a wife; she was also committed to working with Eero. She wrote his speeches, promoted his work with her journalistic contacts, advised him, and supported him—and she wanted to do it full-time.

Louchheim was so committed, Hagberg argues, that she literally wrote Saarinen into fame. In the first article she wrote about him, published in the Times on April 26, 1953, she proclaimed: “Eero Saarinen is today 42 and is already the most widely known and respected architect of his generation.” Whether the pronouncement was completely true didn’t matter (Hagberg says it wasn’t then and isn’t now); what mattered was that Times readers would believe its associate art critic. It only took Aline months to persuade Eero to divorce his wife and write herself into the roles she had been coveting: wife and head of Information Services at Saarinen’s office.

Hagberg’s meticulous historical investigation works on several levels. She addresses the omission of Louchheim’s role from Eero’s biographies, expanding the field of architectural history to include actors beyond architects. She also, in the words of historian Annmarie Adams, “dissolves the field,” meaning that she looks at “canonical structures with an entirely new lens.” In this case, that lens is composed of a variety of archival materials. Letters and articles written by Louchheim before marrying Saarinen give way to written memos exchanged between Eero and Aline once they get married and move in together, which in turn give way to correspondence between Aline and her business contacts following Eero’s death. Hagberg does not stray into personal story lines disconnected from Aline’s output as a writer; we don’t even learn about her children. This focus on language and narration, as well as Hagberg’s rigorous analysis, results in a text faithful to the author’s stated intention of changing the way historians look at media.

It is through media, of course, that we primarily consume architecture. Hagberg takes on the huge task of deconstructing our obliviousness toward this fact. She proves that Louchheim was the one shaping the publicity and language around Eero Saarinen’s work, coining such iconic phrases as the one that describes the TWA terminal as a “swooping bird.” Louchheim’s narrative was such an integral part of Eero’s work, Hagberg claims, that some of her writing became appropriated as the architect’s own words in books and publications. This was, of course, part of Aline’s mission of maintaining discretion and invisibility as a highly effective publicist.

Most fascinatingly, though, Hagberg manages to treat both the personal and the professional as integral parts of a single person. She never suggests that one should be treated as more significant than the other, and she never apologizes for the role that Louchheim played as Saarinen’s wife. While her academic analysis of Louchheim’s writing is meticulous and rigorous, Hagberg also has the confidence to portray Aline as a woman in love.

In the autobiographical sections of the book, Hagberg discloses a feeling of both personal and professional connection to Louchheim. She describes her own career, first as research assistant to a famous architectural writer, then as an independent journalist, and finally as a publicist running a successful PR business. She writes about a romantic relationship with a sculptor and her desire to be his publicist. There are exclusive deals, connections that are sometimes difficult to navigate, love, sickness, power, and the personal and the professional existing together—just as they do in most people’s lives. These sections are brilliantly narrated, witty and insightful. As with the best of literature narrated in first person, they left me with the feeling of being let in on secrets of the author’s world. In this case, I was let into the world of architectural journalism and PR, along with its blurred relationships between clients and friends. Hagberg’s personal account provides an engaging narrative that complements her otherwise academic and dispassionate line of inquiry, shining light on some aspects of the job that cannot be gleaned from Aline’s letters and others that are uniquely contemporary, like press trips and email mishaps.

A cynic would perhaps read this book with resentment. The role of luck, connections, relationships, and access to media in creating a career—both Aline’s and the author’s—is immense. Hagberg’s account manages to withhold judgement as it examines the relationship between the built and written work. Hagberg exposes the structures of power that rule architectural publicity and publication, giving readers the power to understand these structures for themselves. She is refreshingly honest about disclosing honoraria and the complexities of navigating relationships that are simultaneously professional and personal. And, she dispels the tired idea of lone genius and single-person authorship, so favored and repeated in architectural history, by highlighting for the role of language and media representations, as well as the people in charge of those in creating fame and notoriety within the field of architecture.

Hagberg’s book is bold and original, both in subject matter and structure. The author’s investment in the entanglement of love and professional drive, of language and form, does not fight for the inclusion of Aline Louchheim Saarinen in the existing canon but rather builds a new category all its own. In this layered, complex story, Hagberg wades into love, fame, publicity, language, media, and architecture, uncompromising in the depiction of Aline’s multidimensional life and work. Through this proposal of entirely new rules, Hagberg has written a historical study that is useful for thinking about architectural media in the present. Much like Aline Louchheim Saarinen some years ago, Eva Hagberg carves out a niche for herself today with similar vision and conviction.⬤

MARIANNA JANOWICZ is an architect and researcher based in London. She is currently working toward establishing herself as the cat lady of Twitter.

Illustration by SEAN SUCHARA

This review appeared in our September-October 2022 Issue, #31. We are mailing #31 to all new subscribers until we publish issue #32. Click here to receive the current and future issues.