Eero Saarinen's To-do Lists

By Liza Kirwin
April 6, 2010
Page 1 of To do list Page 2 of To do list Page 3 of To do list
To-do list, August 16, 1961 by Eero Saarinen. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1906-1977. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Lately I’ve been thinking about lists—to-do lists, membership lists, grocery lists, lists of paintings sold, lists of appointments made and met—and what they can tell us about the list maker and a moment in time.

Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen (1910–1961), who designed such structural icons as the TWA terminal (1962) at JFK International Airport in New York and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis (1965), was a great list maker.

Saarinen’s papers are peppered with lists of all kinds. In Roman numerals, I through IV, he set out the progress of his divorce, and from one to ten he listed the names of architects whom he considered to be his “subconscious board of directors,” that is, individuals with whom he may not agree, but nevertheless would like their approval.

Saarinen was also fond of enumerating his second wife’s good qualities—“generous, attractive, amusing, intelligent, talented, love-able, constructive, creative,” and the like, in multiple lists, often in red pencil.

His last to-do list (pictured), consisting of fifty-two separate items, is his most poignant. It was written on August 16, 1961, just five days before he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and sixteen days before he died from complications of surgery. He was fifty-one and in the midst of major architectural projects, as well as his home renovation. His list of all that was left undone is evidence of a life cut short.

See our current exhibition Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery at the Reynolds Center in Washington, D.C. and the Lists book published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Liza Kirwin is curator of manuscripts at the Archives of American Art. She will be giving a Gallery Tour of the Lists exhibition on Sunday, April 11 at 2:00 p.m.



I believe that all people that have an entrepreneurial mind, create lists without even knowing about it. They are constantly planning there next step with plan B and C. Even if they are not writing it down on paper, it is in the back of there mind.

I used to do this almost everyday.

Lovely post!

Thanks for an interesting post about making lists! I would be absolutely lost without lists of everything that needs to be done. Your reference to Saarinen is truly poignant. Just goes to show - we may plan all we want to, but nobody knows what tomorrow holds.

Lists are essential to me ever since I turned 40, and my memory is not as sharp as it once was. Every day before I leave I write a "to do" list of what I want to accomplish during the day and a "supplies needed list" which I update as the day goes by. There is something magical about having a WRITTEN list of goals that makes you accomplish them that does not occur if it is just kept mentally. I have also found that "Post it" notes (on which I often put lists) are extremely beneficial.

Thanks for an interesting post

It's a great thing it was featured here. Before, I admit I don't appreciate much the value of lists in daily life. But when we reached the adult stage of our lives, we actually can discover the relevance of lists in our lives.

I’ve seen progression in every post. Your newer posts are simply wonderful compared to your posts in the past. Keep up the good work!

this is part of the history, weird and nice

all i can say is that making a to do list is very important in doing something so that we cant forget our work.

I'd say with confidence that making to do list increases efficiency as I have clear view and plan on how to organize my time. Also, if properly done reduces the stress levels.

One of the secrets of getting more done is to make a TO DO List every day, keep it visible, and use it as a guide to action as you go through the day.

good article ...
This post is very informative, I like it
it's very helful to me

I keep lists of names of people that I have met, a list of things to do day by day as well as a log of how my time is consumed throughout the day. It's a very important part of my personal discipline.

the pen is sharper than our memory.. ive always use list everyday, especially if i have a lot of appointments in job throughout the week. Even if i cant bring any pen i used my phone as a reminders. Listing is important method that you cant afford to neglect since they are very helpful. Through listing i found my job done without forgetting anything that need to be done.

Such a list of doing something

I don't get it, this way to broad to understand can you be more specific

I don't think that is just some ordinary to-do-list. It seems Eero was able to express his feelings with his lists. We may see it as a plan but who knows what he had been thinking back then?