Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A Hungarian photographer and Finnish architect made midcentury America look its best.
Standing face-to-face with an Eero Saarinen structure, it’s hard to feel anything but awe. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, there’s always the photography of Balthazar Korab.
Although Korab documented the works of many architects during his career, the Hungarian-born photographer, who passed away in 2013, is most associated with America’s favorite Finnish architect. For every project Saarinen had in the works, Korab was there to capture the models, the renderings, and the final product—each shot living up to the subject.
Saarinen’s masterful use of curves and light made it easy for Korab, an architect by training, to find the drama with his lens. Despite their European origins, the duo, who both lived in Michigan for much of their lives, expressed the optimism and power of post-World War II America in their work as well as anyone.
Unlike the work of some of his fellow midcentury architects, Saarinen, who died in 1961 at the age of 51, has left behind a legacy mostly well cared for. Metrorail service in D.C. is scheduled to reach Dulles Airport by 2019; General Motors has announced plans to invest $1 billion in the Tech Center he designed for them in Warren, Michigan; and the grounds around the St. Louis Arch are being redesigned by Michael Van Valkenburgh. Other structures are being preserved while their uses change, such as the vacant TWA Flight Center at JFK airport, which will soon become a hotel, and the current U.S. embassy in London, which was landmarked even as it loses the only tenant its ever had to the other side of town.
Available through the Library of Congress, Korab’s photography shows Saarinen’s work in its earliest days while reminding any viewer just how lucky one country can be to have so many landmarks by a master architect who died at the peak of his career.