The Eames architecture promised good design for minimal cost through the use of prefabricated standardized parts. At the end of World War II the Eameses joined a larger movement of architects and builders aiming to supply the veteran with affordable housing. From their own house in Los Angeles to their proposal for the do-it-yourself Kwikset House, the Eameses sought to bring the "good life" to the general public, integrating high and low art forms, modern materials and construction technologies, craft and design. They advocated mass-production of architectural components, furnishings and accessories as the ideal way to spread low-cost, high quality modern design throughout America. Although ultimately the Eameses designed few buildings, they popularized basic tenets of their architecture in their toys, furniture, films and slide shows.
Eames House Studio with Dried Desert Plants,
Illustration for the Article "What Is a House",
published in Arts and Architecture, July, 1944
of Eames House
manufactured 1950–52, steel, laminated plywood, wood, plywood, fiberglass, lacquered Masonite, and rubber
need, Charles Eames said, is the primary condition for design.
Early in their careers together, Charles and Ray identified
the need for affordable, yet high-quality furniture for the
average consumer-furniture that could serve a variety of uses.
For forty years the Eameses experimented with ways to meet
this challenge, designing flexibility into their compact storage
units and collapsible sofas for the home; seating for stadiums,
airports, and schools; and chairs for virtually anywhere.
Their chairs were designed in four materials-molded plywood,
fiberglass-reinforced plastic, bent and welded wire-mesh,
and cast aluminum. The conceptual backbone of this diverse
work was the search for seat and back forms that fit the human
anatomy, using flexible materials rather than cushioned upholstery.
An ethos of functionalism informed all of their furniture
designs. "What...works is better than what looks good," Ray
said. " The looks good can change, but what works, works."
Charles and Ray Eames's
career in the 1950's mirrored America's postwar shift
from an industrial society of information. Rather than
furnishings and buildings, the office focused its efforts
on communication systems in the forms of exhibitions,
books and films. The Eameses produced these media for
the governments at home and abroad., for industry, and
for the education and pleasure of their friends and
colleagues. In these endeavors the Eameses used imagery
of daily rituals and entertainments, vernacular landscapes,
and ordinary objects to promote popular culture as the
currency of exchange between nations and people. Projects
such as these elevated Charles and Ray Eames to the
status of United States ambassadors overseas and cultural
interpreters of the meaning of America at home.
and Ray Eames's philosophy of the educational role of
everyday things lead them to develop projects that would
lead people to find beauty in the everyday. Charles heard
the music of Bach in the splash of soapy water on an asphalt
schoolyard- and made the film Blacktop. Ray saw beauty
in the shape of a utilitarian leg splint- and made elegant
sculptures. The Eameses' ability to transform the ordinary
into the extraordinary is one of their greatest legacies.
Eames's films and slide shows gave the spectator, in
Charles's words, a "new depth of vision." Encompassing
an enormous breadth of subject matter, the Eameses'
slide shows were assembled for school courses and lectures
as well as for their client's corporate events. Like
objects themselves, the Eameses' slides were valuable
media of information, providing essential connections
to distant times, places and cultures.
The Eameses sought to foster universal understanding of socially beneficial science. To help people understand new technologies and their potential, they produced approximately sixty films, exhibitions, and books for such corporations as IBM, Boeing, Polaroid, and Westinghouse. Throughout their careers, the Eameses counted many scientists as colleagues and friends, joining their community as visual communicators.
A major theme in all the Eameses' scientific endeavors was the beauty and elegance of scientific principles and the tools they used to study and convey them. Revealing science's complex integration of art, philosophy, and nature, the Eameses' films and exhibitions successfully related the unfamiliar aspects of everyday life. These projects translated complex ideas into simple images to make them understandable to the lay person.
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plotting sequences of Powers of Ten
Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero (1977)
The ultimate Eamesian expression of systems and connections, Powers of Ten (1977, first version 1968) explores the relative size of things from the microscopic to the cosmic. With the camera pulling back at the rate of 10/10 meters per second, the film travels from an aerial view of a man in a Chicago park to the outer limits of the universe directly above him and back down into the microscopic world contained in the man's hand. Powers of Ten illustrates the universe as an arena of both continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery. Powers of Ten also demonstrates the Eameses' ability to make science both fascinating and accessible to the lay person.
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