Anyone who did a search on Google today probably saw the sketched-out train engine that forms the word “Google” on the homepage. Honoring the 120th birthday of pioneering American designer Raymond Loewy, the Google doodle pays homage to Loewy’s trademark streamlined look. While we can’t claim Raymond Loewy as a Cranbrook designer, we took his birthday as an opportunity to identify what sort of material and ephemera we have connected to this design powerhouse.
Born in France at the tail end of the 19th century, Loewy moved to the United States as a young adult and swiftly made a name for himself. Loewy became the model for the successful designer, capable of training his discerning eye on a variety of design problems. Whether it was a train, a car, or a menu, Loewy could design it. And as a leading designer of the twentieth century, it is no surprise that he (and the design firm he established) had any number of Cranbrook run-ins. Here are two fun ones:
This letter to Eliel Saarinen from Gordon Buerhig, a leading car designer and manager for Raymond Loewy, illustrates the firm’s interest in working with Cranbrook on an automotive design program. While nothing ever came of the potential plan, it shows the diversity of design areas in which Loewy and his firmed worked. (Editor’s note: pardon the low quality of the photograph – this was taken in preparation for the exhibition A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car. You can now view this letter, and other automotive-related material, in the show in the DeSalle Gallery of the Cranbrook Art Museum!)
Loewy also has connections to the younger Saarinen via one of Eero Saarinen’s most iconic projects—the TWA Flight Center at Idlewild (the future JFK Airport). The swooping, organic design of the terminal is pure Eero Saarinen, and Loewy and his firm responded to the forms with their Union News coffee shop. A shopping spot and watering hole, Loewy’s coffee shop reflected his ability to adapt his designs to a client or environment while still remaining true to his streamlined approach.
Though the entire TWA terminal ended operations in 2001 and lay dormant from 2001 to 2005, the “Head House” or central hub of the terminal (where the Union News coffee shop likely was) has been reopened as the ceremonial entrance to JFK’s new JetBlue terminal. About the terminal, Eero Saarinen said, “We wanted passengers passing through the building to experience a fully designed environment in which each part arises from another and everything belongs to the same formal world.” Loewy’s restaurant design satisfies Saarinen’s vision of a “fully designed environment,” fitting in perfectly with the architecture of the terminal despite originating from a the hand of a different designer. They belong, as Saarinen said, “to the same formal world,” one from which visitors departed and arrived in style.
— Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow