75 Years Young: Eames Molded Plywood Development Part Two Posted May 11, 2021 by Daniel Ostroff

The next stage leading to the development of the Eames Molded Plywood Chairs of 1946 was some site specific work for another Eliel Saarinen building. Eames Demetrios, in An Eames Primer, gives a full account of this work.

“By 1939, Charles Eames was 32 years old and head of the design department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, outside Detroit. He had been there for a year or so, having practiced architecture in St. Louis for most of the decade. He had become good friends with Eero Saarinen, who was junior partner in the architecture office of his father, Eliel Saarinen. Charles also worked on projects in the Saarinen office from time to time. At that time, Eliel Saarinen, who was also the head of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, was designing the Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York. 

Saarinen Sr. was the architect of the building and Charles and Eero designed the seating. They designed a number of different pieces, including the armchair illustrated here.”

“They determined the single striking curve for the seat by doing some research, using dowels to ascertain the shape of the human bottom and to find the curve for most comfortable support. Although these chairs were not mass-produced for the consumer market, one can see the possibility inherent in the design. The Kleinhans chair represents an important point in Charles’ career, because it is the first expression of his notion of wringing a solution from a single piece of material–a single shell chair. From a materials standpoint, however, it was still essentially a curved slab design in the vein of the chairs of Alvar Aalto.

The chairs were installed and well received.  They had been manufactured in a modest quantity, but because it was a small run, the manufacture was essentially custom manufacture in volume.”

Eames Demetrios concludes, “But Charles and Eero must have begun to reflect both on the restrictions and possibilities available to them. Therefore, in 1940, when MOMA announced the Organic Furniture competition, Charles and Eero leapt at the chance.” This is the perfect segue to Eames Molded Plywood Chair Development, Part Three, forthcoming in May.

Read part one of this molded plywood development series and check back for future installments soon.