Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Charles and Ray Eames

Charles and Ray Eames

1. Charles and Ray Eames are an amazing couple who have contributed a variety and an abundance of work to the design world. In the twentieth century they created architecture, books, films, furniture, graphics, museum exhibitions, photography, textiles, and toys.

In his youth Charles Eames always excelled in school and was even voted “most likely to succeed.” However when he went to study architecture at Washington University, he left after just two years. Charles’ work was heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. In a report from the university, there was a note that stated, “his views were too modern.” He met and married a fellow architecture student in 1929 and began practicing architecture just as the Great Depression was taking shape. In 1933, Charles left his wife and daughter and went to Mexico seeking inspiration. When he returned he opened an architecture firm with Robert Walsh, and together they designed various churches and houses near St. Louis Missouri. Charles was influenced by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. While working on the Meyer house, Saarinen suggested that Charles should consider going to Cranbrook. So Charles moved to Michigan to study architecture at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Ray Kaiser had studied abstract art in New York City under Hans Hofmann before going to Cranbrook in 1940. She was a painter and wanted to explore in other mediums. Charles and Ray married and moved to California where they began working together.

2. Before moving to California, Charles and Eero Saarinen had designed prize-winning furniture for New York's Museum of Modern Art "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition.Their work displayed the new technique of wood moulding (originally developed by Alvar Aalto) These early experiments lead to their commission to design Leg splints and airplane parts for the military. These leg splints were lightweight, inexpensive, sculptural yet functional. They studied the form of the human body to design the curves of the splints. Because of the modular design of the splints, they were convenient to take apart and easy to transport. Access to military technology and manufacturing facilities allowed the Eames to perfect their technique for molding plywood. This also gave way to the mass production of their products.

3. Originally, they used a handmade machine to mold the plywood, called the Kazam! Machine. Shown on the left. Then, new machines for compression, molding, sawing and trimming, allowed then to further their experiments and develop components. On the right is an image of LCM and DCM chairs designed in 1946 and manufactured by Herman Miller Furniture Company.

4. In learning about the work of Charles and Ray, what I found interesting and useful is their design methods. Process was a key part of learning. Through the process of molding wood they were able to understand the nature of the material and use it in unexpected ways. They developed ideas through sketching and studying the human body. Rigorous experimentation, trial and error, and continuously working on new iterations of their designs are how they developed their ideas and improved their work. On the upper left: Plaster cast models. They were always protyping and testing their designs. Gentle curves were ergonomic and comfortable for the human body. Their designs were affordable and multifunctional. They eventually created dining chairs, tables, and storage units.

5. & 6. These are two examples of the Arts and Architecture magazines. Ray designed the graphics for the covers in 1942-1944. Two textiles and patterns (1947)

Some monochromatic, other with bold color palettes, repetitions of abstract geometric, hand drawn patterns. Her work was modern and humanistic; abstract yet approachable.

7. During the Great Depression as many of the WW2 veterans were returning home, there was a shortage of housing and construction materials. So, the California Arts and Architecture magazine sponsored Case Study Houses to find solutions to these problems. The Eames' designed Case Study #8 in Pacific Palisades, California in 1949. They used industrial materials such as, factory sash windows, commercial doors, and corrugated steel roofing. The design had a flexible plan with multi purpose spaces and a double height living room. This was characteristic of postwar modern architecture.

8. They also developed more designs for chairs and chaises using new materials: molded fiberglass, metal wire. Middle image shows one of the earliest designs from the 1940 MOMA “Organic Design” competition that Charles and Saarinen designed using molded plywood, foam rubber, and fabric. They won first place, which allowed them to be recognized and lead to the design of the other chairs.

9. In the 50’s they continued to do graphic design, and also started a collection of photography, and began creating films. Both his photography and films tried to see found objects in new ways and were explorations of the ordinary. They also worked on a numerous museum exhibitions including: the India Report; Mathematics, Numbers and Beyond; the THINK exhibition for IBM at the NY World Fair, and The world of Franklin and Jefferson. Some films were documentary, scientific, and educational and others were simple short stories. Some titles of their films: (their first film) Traveling Boy, Toccata for Toy Trains, House after five years of living, which is a series of photographs documenting their life and home, and Computer Perspective (1971). Here are some examples of their photography collection which is now in the Congress Library. The Famous Film, Blacktop, 1952, also expresses their interest in the ordinary. It is a video demonstrating the abstract beauty of water washing down asphalt of a schoolyard.

10. Their most famous film is Powers of Ten from 1977. The film depicts the relative scale of the Universe in factors of ten . The camera zooms in and out starting at a man at a picnic going out to the universe and into the atoms. Every 10 seconds, goes 10x farther out, as you zoom out time changes because of the speed of light.

11. What is Design? 1972 film_ Diagram from 1969 Exhibition in Paris

· Recognition of a need and then Address itself to the need

· Expression of purpose, which may later be judged as art

· A method of action

· Design is useful, Pleasure is useful > take pleasure seriously!

· Design depends on constraints

· Process, experimentation, various iterations allow for development

· Don’t limit yourself to one method or material


Whimsical works: the playful designs of Charles & Ray Eames / [exhibition held] Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania ... July 22 through September 11, 2005. Philadelphia: The Trustees, University of Pennsylvania, c2005.

An Eames primer / Eames Demetrios. New York : Universe Pub., 2001.

Eames design : the office of Charles and Ray Eames, 1941-1978 / by John and Marilyn Neuhart with Ray Eames. New York : H.N. Abrams, 1989.

Connections, the work of Charles and Ray Eames : Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles, December 7, 1976-February 6, 1977 / exhibition design by John and Marilyn Neuhart ; essay by Ralph Caplan ; introd. by Phillip Morrison ; photos. by the office of Charles and Ray Eames. [Los Angeles] : UCLA Art Council, [c1976.]

The Eames lounge chair : an icon of modern design / Martin Eidelberg ... [et al.]. Grand Rapids, MI : Grand Rapids Art Museum ; London ; New York : In Association with Merrell, 2006.

Charles and Ray Eames : designers of the twentieth century / Pat Kirkham. Edition 1st MIT Press pbk. ed. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 1998.

1 comment:

Annabelle said...

Ah I love them! Their furniture designs are beyond fabulous. I am a huge fan of their lounge chair and ottoman. I'd been a fan since I bought my first piece from a couple of years ago. Since then, I've only ordered their stuff online at that site. They have everything and all the selection.