Charles Eames American designer, filmmaker and architect

Ray and Charles Eames

Charles Eames, a distinguished American designer, filmmaker and architect, studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis in 1924. In the early 1930s, having worked in private practice, he received a fellowship in 1936 to study architecture and design at the Academy of Art in Cranbrook, which proved to be a valuable experience.  

Biography

From 1937 to 1940, he headed the Cranbrook Academy’s Experimental Design Department. He formed friendships with Eero Saarinen (son of Eliel, president of Cranbrook), Florence Knoll, and Ray Kaiser (Eames, Ray Kaiser) whom he married in 1941 and became his close associate for the rest of his career. He has also worked closely with architect and designer Eero Saarinen for several years.

Work was shown at MOMA

The work of the Eameses was noticed at the Organic Design competition, which was held in New York City in 1940-1 at the Modern Art Museum. Charles Eames, assisted by Ray and in collaboration with Saarinen, won two prizes: a moulded plywood chair and the other for a modular design.

Moved to California

The Eameses moved to California in 1941 and worked for the US Navy with Saarinen on a series of moulded plywood splints and stretchers that were instrumental in producing their future furniture. In 1946 Eameses made their famous LCW moulded plywood chair (Lounge Chair Wood) which was first manufactured by Evans Products Company’s Molded Plywood Division (1946–199) and then by Herman Miller Furniture Co. (1949–1957). This and other designs were shown at a MOMA exhibition entitled New Furniture Designed by Charles Eames (with no mention of Ray) in 1946, which helped establish their reputation at home and internationally.

Charles Eames, Low Side Chair, c.1946
Charles Eames, Low Side Chair, c.1946
Charles Eames, Ray Eames Leg Splint 1942
Charles Eames, Ray Eames Leg Splint 1942

Following World War II

There were a series of spectacularly innovatory chairs designed following WWII, using new materials such as glass-reinforced plastic, which proved very influential. A pioneering example was the DAR collection chair from Herman Miller. The famous example was the 1948 DAR armchair, produced by Herman Miller Furniture Co. from 1950 to the 1970s. The modular work of the Eameses, first seen in the Organic Design competition of 1940, was subsequently seen in works such as the storage unit, model ESU 421‐C of 1949, which established a type often found in homes and offices in the 1950s.

Eames Chair replica
Eames Chair replica

The practicality of such a modular outlook was reflected in the design of the Eames home in Santa Monica (1947–9), sponsored by Arts and Architecture magazine, and attracted public and critical attention. The open-plan layout was ordered from standardised, prefabricated parts and was awarded the Twenty-five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects in 1978.

Other famous designs

Other famous Eames furniture designs included the 1956 moulded rosewood and leather lounge chair and ottoman. All senior managers of large corporations aspired for many years, and the 1962 Tandem metal-framed furniture for O’Hare Airport, Chicago, set the standard for subsequent airport seats. The Eameses also produced many films, beginning in 1950, as well as multimedia presentations. The former included Mathematica (1961) for IBM, Powers of Ten (1968) for the College of Physics Commission, and Commissions for the US Government. The latter included a presentation on seven screens using 2,000 images in twelve minutes on the US Glimpses for the American National Pavilion at the Moscow World Fair in 1959. Through their continuous experimentation in plywood, glass-enhanced plastics, and other materials and media, the Eameses became one of the most influential designers of the 20th century.

Sources

Woodham, J. (2004). Eames, Charles. In A Dictionary of Modern Design. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 Feb. 2021, from https://www-oxfordreference-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/view/10.1093/acref/9780192800978.001.0001/acref-9780192800978-e-265.

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