Eero Saarinen: John Deere and Co. Steel building

This article was originally published in Domus 422 / January 1965

A steel building by Saarinen, open recently
“The architectural character was determined largely by the site and the character of the company. The 600 acre site consists both of high table land and low river land, its edges broken by wooden ravines. One of the broad ravines seemed the finest, most pleasant and most human site for the building complex. In such a treestudded site, where it would be intimately connected with nature, a strong, dark building seemed appropriate. …Having decided to use steel we wanted to make a steel building that was really a steel building (most so-called steel buildings seem to me to be more glass buildings than steel buildings, really not one thing or the other).

Domus 422 / January 1965 page details

We sought for an appropriate material — economical, maintenance free, bold in character, dark in color. We located a certain high tensile steel, which has a peculiar characteristic: if this steel is left unpainted, a rust coating forms which becomes a protective skin over the steel. This rust coating — which does not develop beyond a certain point — is a cinnamon brown color which makes a beautiful dark surface on the steel. We built a full-size mock-up section of the façade on the site to make sure the steel would act as we had anticipated. It has. I predict other architects will use it widely.

“Deere’s bulk is masked by its careful insertion into the rounded landscape. But in concept, in character, in intellectuality, it stands aloof — a symbol of industrialism — enriching rather than destroying the landscape by contrast” — Walter McQuade (Architectural Forum)

Domus 422 / January 1965 page details.

The plan was determined both by the client’s needs and the site. The eight-storey administration building is placed crosswise on the floor of the valley. At its fourth floor level, glass-enclosed flying bridges stretch out to the laboratory and the exhibition buildings on the high slopes of the ravine. The complex is approached from the valley below. We planned the roads carefully, keeping in mind how the building would be seen as one drove along the man-made lake up to the parking lot behind the building and to the entrance.

Having selected a site because of the beauty of nature, we were especially anxious to lake full advantage of views from the offices. To avoid curtains or Venetian blinds, which obscure the views, we worked out a system of sun-shading with metal louvers and specified reflective glass to prevent glare… “.

(From several statements by Eero Saarinen, from 1957 to 1961, collected in Eero Saarinen on his work, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1962)

Having decided to use steel we wanted to make a steel building that was really a steel building (most so-called steel buildings seem to me to be more glass buildings than steel buildings, really not one thing or the other)

Domus 422 / January 1965 page details. In the exhibition hall is the extraordinary “mural” designed by Alexander Girard: it collects in a three-dimensional assemblage some two thousand documents of the American farming history: the brave and pathetic first era of American agriculture, through Deere’s history: from the development of John Deere’s first plow in 1837 to the Company’s entry into the tractor business in 1918

Domus 422 / January 1965 page details. Three innovations: architectural use of exposed unpainted steel; structural neoprene glazing gaskets, and laminated “mirror” glass for windows

Domus 422 / January 1965 page details

Domus 422 / January 1965 page details

Domus 422 / January 1965 page details

Domus 422 / January 1965 page details

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