Comparing Rietveld and Eames Posted April 6, 2016 by Daniel Ostroff

In a 1969 interview with S.M. Pruys for the Dutch newspaper, Algemeen Handelsblad, Charles Eames discussed his design philosophy, using designer Gerrit Rietveld’s work as a point of comparison.

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The famous Dutch designer, Gerrit Rietveld, secured his place in design history with his 1923 Red Blue Chair (left), which is part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). To its right, is a photograph of an Eames Lounge Chair Wood (LCW), also at MoMA.

In his interview with Pruys, Charles makes a point about Eames designs by considering Rietveld’s approach to making a chair in contrast to that of the Eames Office.

If one compares my chairs with those of Rietveld, then mine are much more naive. Rietveld started out from intellectual conceptions to which he subordinated the facts and the reality. We, on the other hand, were completely taken in by the facts, by the immediate reality, for example, that a chair in the first place is something (a gadget) to sit on, and therefore should be comfortable. Aesthetic considerations did not come first with us.

At the end of the same interview, Pruys asked Charles: “Did you ever have some design philosophy?”

Charles replied,“Yes, but I do want to describe that. I am all for maintaining the natural situation; designing is really nothing else than reacting to unnatural situations. Only when one experiences something unnatural one reacts.”

Many designers working today seem to follow Rietveld’s example, focusing on visual forms in their work. In contrast to this, Charles and Ray Eames developed unique tools and techniques to address the need for affordable, comfortable seating; they worked diligently to mold and shape plywood in a way that is natural, in that it provides comfortable support for the human body. The LCW is just one expression of that idea.

Interviewer S.M. Pruys was a leading critic of design and architecture in the Netherlands. He wrote critiques and columns in several magazines and newspapers and published the book Things Are People in 1972 about the relationship between industrial design and social phenomena such as consumerism and the environment.

Pruys’s complete interview with Charles can be found on pages 274-275 of An Eames Anthology.