Charles Eames: Born in St. Louis, 1907, studied architecture at Washington University. In 1936 began his fellowship at Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Michigan, during this time he collaborated with Eero Saarinen on furniture design. The team won first place in MoMA’s ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’ competition.
Bernice Alexander Kaiser (name changed to Ray in 1954): Born in Sacramento, California, 1933, studied painting at The Arts Students League and the Hans Hoffman School in New York. In 1940 began school at Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Michigan where she met Charles.
Charles and Ray Eames where married in 1941, moved to Los Angeles and “began the greatest husband-and-wife collaboration of the century” (Fiell 141).
Case Study House No. 8
Pacific Palisades, California, 1945 to 1949
The Eames House is a double-storey unit divided into house and studio areas by an open court.
Made of light steel frame, standard 7 foot 6 inch bays, with sashes and panels from standard industrial components utilized in a straightforward and workmanlike way. Materials such as: transparent panels, clear or wired glass; translucent panels of glass fibre, opaque panels of wood and coloured aluminum were used for the building shell. The interior was filled with furniture, flowers, pillows, toys, candles, with a mezzanine and built-in
seats, and bookcases.
This house was designed for a living pattern and not as a fixed architectural pattern.
They could not see why the living, moving, outward-rounded human form should have to be flattened against a rigid, straight surface, or pressed down on an arbitrarily curved one when sitting or lounging. Chair seats and back should be sculpted to fit and conform to body movements.
The Eames strived to create well-designed furniture for the masses which was affordable, durable and comfortably fit the body thus providing a positive house environment.
Their chairs belong to the occupants, not to the building.
They began working with fiberglass in the 1950s because it could be easily manipulated, creating a one-piece chair which was mass produced for Herman Miller Co. with Zenith Plastics and UCLA.
The Plastic Shell Group of chairs were made of molded fiberglass-reinforced polyester seat shell connected to various metal rod bases, with rubber shock-mounts, some were designed to be stack-able.
New technologies were fundamental as well as close relationships with manufactures to ensure they employed the latest products and techniques.
Charles and Ray were thorough and vigorous in their process.
Ray Eames stated that “what works is better than what looks good. The ‘look good’ can change, but what works, works.”
Eames Plywood Work:
Lounge Chair and Ottoman,
1956-7, ($634 in 1957, today $5500 )
The comfortable executive chair is made of rosewood veneer, moulded plywood shells, upholstered foam and downfilled and leather cover on a swivelling cast aluminium base.
“This differs from bent plywood in that there is no excessive compression or internal stresses set up nor any tendency to return to the flat shape.
At the time of curing the individual plys of veneer are held in the desired relation to each other and so take the molded contour as their natural shape.”
Charles and Ray created a one-piece compound curved chair through the use of their homemade ‘Kazam’ Machine. It worked by pushing glued plys, with a bicycle pump, against an electrically heated plaster mold creating the curved plywood chair. This process worked but took
4 to 6 hours, too long for mass production.
Process & Technique:
Charles and Ray experimented on innovative methods of molding plywood into furniture for mass production. Their designs are molded in two directions creating compound curves from thin veneers laminated together, achieving considerable strength.
Designs were explored with full scale models from preliminary sketches, working drawings were rare. These models under went scrutinized testing for comfort and durability.
In 1941 The Chrysler Corporation invented a process called cycle-welding which allowed wood to be joined to rubber, glass or metal, without protruding bolts or screws, this connection absorbs shock and distribute stress. However at this time the technology was reserved for the military. Eventually the use of Rubber Shock Mounts and Electronic Cycle Welding became available and applied to their designs.
This same process was used to mass produce the molded-plywood forms. A synthetic resin was placed between each sheet of laminated timber, allowing each layer to cure for a few seconds while heat is supplied by a wave emission from an electronic instrument.
The mechanical components are displayed but not glorified, they believed that it was appropriate to make the greatest use out of the least amount of material.
Charles Eames stated “I think of myself officially as an architect. I can’t help but look at problems around us as problems of structure-and structure is architecture”
Charles and Ray Eames: Designers of the Twentieth Century
Eames: The Architect and the Painter
Charles Eames. Furniture from the Design Collection. The Museum of Modern art, New York
- Vitra Campus – Weil am Rhein (architecturegroupie.wordpress.com)