Charles Eames and technique

Stop motion, going back to the early 1950s and the beginning of the great designer's development.

Originally published in Domus 256/March 1951


More than his work, including the famous plywood and metal chair, what we find interesting in Eames is his mental attitude towards design. His way of perceiving the architect's work is particularly topical as it is quite common among the entire generation of young professionals today.
It is well-known that the language of modern architecture was formed by three distinct fields - stylistic freedom, technical engineering and the recognition of the fundamental human value of architecture. Yet these are the three starting points from which architects began building their reasoning, each according to his own natural inclinations. The predominant position in Charles Eames' inspiration is occupied by modern technique: an unknown, so rich and capable of superior solutions, so improved and so complex as to seem almost broken down into many specific components.
Some furniture in the Herman Miller series. Armchair in compression molded FRP (fiberglass reinforced polyester), 1950. Above, Lounge Chair Wood, 1946
Some furniture in the Herman Miller series. Armchair in compression molded FRP (fiberglass reinforced polyester), 1950. Above, Lounge Chair Wood, 1946
How to explain in fact that the construction industry ignores or does not adopt similar solutions - already implemented by other industries in much more relevant and effective ways - to problems paralleling its own beyond all prejudice or traditional concern?
One example is the degree of perfection found in some industries such as shipbuilding, automobile production, aviation; and even in apparently less related sectors such as plastics or surgical equipment in which many obstacles have been overcome and resolved, from the absolute exploitation of space to lightness, from mass production to the insurance of every comfort. And while their labor is constant and continuous, their equipment relentlessly upgraded, the construction industry is immobile in the security of having solved all of its problems for centuries.
To place Eames' work in the right light and to understand its energy and the stunning novelty of his achievements, one needs to remember that he comes to architecture from "industrial design."
One of the most characteristic elements in this family of furniture by Eames is the undulated plywood screen
One of the most characteristic elements in this family of furniture by Eames is the undulated plywood screen
Eames is mentioned for the first time in 1940, when a chair in curved plywood and metal, designed in collaboration with Eero Saarinen, won first prize at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The model presented, of course, could not be produced because there was neither an appropriate industry nor the right technology. As always, artists had pioneered the technical process and marked the road. The war interrupted any possibility for significant research, but Eames continued his studies, aided by his wife, with the rudimentary tools available, a bicycle pump, a homemade tool, etc. etc.

At the end of the conflict, however, production technology was developed, and now, after the resounding success of the first set of series furniture presented in 1946 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Evans Products Company is involved, having entrusted the furniture's distribution to Herman Miller.
The table, in different dimensions both rectangular and round, with a lightweight form, has thin collapsible metal legs
The table, in different dimensions both rectangular and round, with a lightweight form, has thin collapsible metal legs
The success of Eames' furniture was so definitively marked and was, perhaps, particularly appreciated because it was so absolutely new. It was the only production, along with that of Aalto, that represented a radical departure from Bauhaus models, which had been developed and improved upon, but from which, it seemed, no distance could be taken.
This renewal finds its reasons, thanks to the imagination of the artist, in new production processes and in the full use of modern technology. Eames is so aware of this, as evidenced in his controversial statements, as to reverse the process of composition and to think of technology as architecture's true grande dame.
I am sure that if I asked him, Eames would propose the industries' most advanced catalogs as the true texts for teaching architecture. Of course, if on theoretical grounds this is unsustainable, even this certainty gives Eames - who believes in it - great vitality and a kind of thirst for research that knows no limits to its investigation.
A  display and sales  space for the Herman Miller Furniture Company, designed by Charles Earnes (1949). The shapes are simple, Eames relying only on the design of a wall and perfect technical execution
A display and sales space for the Herman Miller Furniture Company, designed by Charles Earnes (1949). The shapes are simple, Eames relying only on the design of a wall and perfect technical execution
The great sense of novelty and freshness that comes from his work follows from this. See, for example, the display space for the Herman Miller Furniture Company and his two most recent houses, one built as his own studio and home, the other designed in collaboration with Eero Sarinen. The home-studio that Eames built for himself, now published at least twice in every magazine in America, is one of the few buildings in which the canonical margin of error of ten centimeters seems to have dwindled to millimeters; everything is technically accurate and well finished. One could say that there is not the traditional use of a single material, nothing resembling the rough labor of the mason's trade. The Bauhaus' fundamental idea finally seems to take shape: the architecture of our industrial century proves to be nothing more than part of industrial design
Charles Eames’s studio and home. This building is squeezed between a row of high trees and the slope of the hill that rises behind. The high degree of technical perfection makes it seem a true home from our industrial age: there is nothing resembling the bricklayer’s crude efforts
Charles Eames’s studio and home. This building is squeezed between a row of high trees and the slope of the hill that rises behind. The high degree of technical perfection makes it seem a true home from our industrial age: there is nothing resembling the bricklayer’s crude efforts

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