Architects and designers, United States
Charles and Ray Eames believed that good design was a means to better living. With
their architecture, furniture design, films, and exhibitions, the Eameses sought to change
the way people thought about everyday objects and daily life. Using new, low-cost, prefabricated
construction materials, they set out to make good design inexpensive and
Charles and Ray formed their professional partnership in 1941, the year they married
and moved to Los Angeles. However, all the work was submitted solely under Charles’s
name until 1947, at which time the design firm became known as the Eames Office. In
recent studies, feminist historians have attempted to assert Ray’s importance in the
partnership, claiming for her some of the recognition she did not receive during her
lifetime. Ray, who studied under Hans Hofmann and at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in
Michigan, contributed an abstract sculptural sense, an aesthetic refinement, and an eye
for detail to their design work. With two years of architectural training at Washington
University in St. Louis, several years in architectural firms, and some experience with
mechanics and manufacturing, Charles brought technical knowledge and engineering
skills to the professional partnership. The Arts and Crafts ideals of Cranbrook had a
lasting effect on the Eameses’ holistic approach to design.
The Eameses’ best-known and most influential architectural work is the house they
designed for themselves: Case Study #8 (1949). The Case Study House Program,
sponsored by the journal Arts and Architecture under John Entenza, was initiated in 1945 as a venue for
architects to produce innovative prototypes for postwar American living. Designed for
specific clients who were mainly professionals or the artistic elite, the Case Study Houses
focused on aesthetic and technological innovation. Charles collaborated with Eero
Saarinen on the initial plan for Case Study #8 in 1945; however, the design was
substantially revised by the Eameses before construction. Interested in the work of
European modernists Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and
others, the Eameses adapted the spare, functional machine aesthetic to their interest in
individual expression. The Eames House was the first Case Study House to use a steel
frame, and the innovative adaptation of prefabricated construction and industrial material
to residential architecture proved very influential. To the Eameses, a house was an
exhibition space for the occupants. Because the designs were published in Arts and Architecture and the
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 720
finished buildings were open to the public for six to eight weeks be fore their occupation by the
clients, this architectural program was accessible to an extensive audience. Charles also
collaborated with Saarinen on a house for John Entenza, Case Study #9 (1949), which
was built on a lot neighboring the Eames House at Pacific Palisades. The Case Study
Houses came to define a new kind of Californian style, and the Eames House in particular
captured public attention and helped define the image of what was modern and American
in the postwar period, both within the United States and internationally.
Other notable architectural works include the showroom for the Herman Miller
Furniture Company (1949) in Los Angeles, designed shortly after the company began
manufacturing the Eameses’s furniture. Using steel-frame construction and a glass facade
of windows and opaque panels, the exterior of the showroom, as well as the concept of a
flexible interior space, was similar to the Eames House. Two unrealized competition
entries for public projects in the 1940s, City Hall (1943) designed with John Entenza, and
a proposal for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (1997), attempted to create a
spatial arrangement of elements that opened the channels of communication between
government and citizens. Projects from the 1950s include the Max De Pree House (1954)
in Zeeland, Michigan, designed for the son of the president of the Herman Miller
Furniture Company, and the Griffith Park Railroad (1957), which was a miniature
railroad station in a Los Angeles park. There were a number of other unrealized
buildings, including a house for Billy Wilder (1950), a project for low-cost mass housing
commissioned by the Kwikset Lock Company of Anaheim (1957), and a Birthday House
for Hallmark Cards (1959). They did not take on any architectural projects in the 1960s
or 1970s.
After 1949, the Eameses began to concentrate more on furniture design, toys and
decorative objects, films, and later exhibi- Office were commercially produced. The
Herman Miller Furniture Company began to manufacture, market, and distribute furniture
from the Eames Office in 1946, and the designs soon gained international recognition. As
in their architectural projects, they adapted wartime techniques and materials, such as
plywood, metal, and plastic (resin and fiberglass), to new purposes. Responding to
functional and technical challenges rather than market demand, the domestic, corporate,
and institutional furniture ranged from inexpensive and massproduced styles to highpriced
Film, multimedia, and exhibition design appealed to the Eameses’s desire
to communicate ideas. Educational presentations were their specialty, and
they delighted in producing everything from independent films to further
the public understanding of science to films for corporate clients who
eagerly embraced the medium as a training and marketing tool in the
1950s and 1960s. Glimps es of the U.S.A. (1959), a multiscreen film presentation about
everyday life in America, was commissioned by the U.S. Department of
State as part of a cultural exchange for the American National Exhibition
in Moscow. With this project, tions. Between 1945 and 1978, more than 40 furniture projects designed by the Eames
Charles and Ray helped define the image of America to an international audience during
the Cold War.
For the Eameses, solving design problems was a way of making the world a better
place. While their architecture made an important contribution to the development of
Californian mod ernism, the functionalist philosophy that informed it contributed to all of
their design work. The Eameses wanted people to see beauty in the everyday, and in all
its forms, their design is a celebration of life.

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