Excerpts from An Eames Anthology for Earth Day 2019 Posted April 22, 2019 by Daniel Ostroff
Charles and Ray Eames often addressed the issue of environmental sustainability. In this regard, as with many others, they were years ahead of other designers. In honor of Earth Day 2019, here is a selection of their statements on this topic from the pages of An Eames Anthology.
Charles Eames with The Eames Solar Toy.
1958: “The Solar Toy.” CE: “We at first declined to be involved in a promotional product for ALCOA on the grounds that we have too many real projects neglected and unfinished. Then it occurred to us that there are some things worth promoting, and the conservation of natural resources seemed like a likely one. A demonstration of solar energy as a practical source of power appeared to be a not uninteresting way of promoting resource conservation.” – An Eames Anthology, page 189
1959: CE + RE, from their co-written document, The India Report, on page 179 of An Eames Anthology: “What kind of an investment does the material provide as product, as salvage?” As much as they considered years of use of their products, measured in decades, as well as the easily repairable, easily replaceable parts of their designs, they also believed designers should consider the value of the materials they use as salvage at the end of the life of a product.
1963: “Los Angeles Times reporter Dorothy Townsend documented Charles Eames’s participation in a 1963 UCLA panel, ‘Problems of the Creative Artist:’ ‘Charles concluded that the problem the artist faces in making decisions is one of morality because ‘we impose our creations on society.'” – An Eames Anthology, page XV
1969: When Charles and Ray outlined in a diagram the boundaries within which they could work with “conviction and enthusiasm,” they included “the concerns of society as a whole.”
In reference to the design diagram, Charles and Ray wrote: “The…diagram also includes a critical and changing area that represents the concerns of society as a whole. None of these areas are static. As client and designer get to know each other, they influence each other. As society’s needs become more apparent, both client and designer expand their own personal concerns to meet these needs.
Schematic Diagram for the proposed National Aquarium by Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo, and the Eames Office.
The problems of protecting the natural ecology and the pleasures of inquiring into biological process have made our work on the Aquarium a natural extension of this interest.” – An Eames Anthology, pages 282 and 283
1970: Charles and Ray Eames felt that environmental sustainability was so important that in 1970, Charles committed to being on the advisory committee focusing on this issue for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which required a couple long, strenuous flights to Puerto Rico. In a newspaper interview, Charles Eames explained, “I’m on a council to advise the Puerto Rican government on the use and protection of their land and environment now that American companies are getting involved in strip mining there. As an isolated island, it’s an opportunity to show how a balance between industry and nature can be worked out” (An Eames Anthology, page 285). Charles Eames wrote a letter following this introduction, which includes a brief summary of his conclusions from this work.
1973: Have you ever wondered what Charles Eames used for shaving? I’m not sure he would have approved of disposable razors. After all, in connection with socks, he said, “You had these things—a hem or a patch on a sock was sewn in a certain way. Today a properly darned sock is a luxury. It was a necessity then, but there was a ritual about it. I had tremendous respect for well-darned socks and today I am fortunate. My wife and I work together all the time and so we have a housekeeper named Maria. And she darns my socks, turns my collars, turns my shirtsleeves, and goddamit, if I want the pleasures of growing old, I want properly darned socks.” – An Eames Anthology, page 317
1986: Hugh DePree, writing as CEO of Herman Miller, explained that “Once in discussing the design of Herman Miller’s New York showroom, the words ‘good design’ were used. Charles Eames said, ‘Don’t give us that good design crap. You never hear us talk about that. The real questions are: Does it solve a problem? Is it serviceable? How is it going to look in ten years?'” [ An Eames Anthology page 388. A product that doesn’t wear out even after decades of use may be better for our future than a disposable product, even if the disposable product is compostable.
We conclude this Earth Day salute with these words from Charles to an interviewer in 1972: “The scary fact is that many of our dreams have come true. We wanted a more efficient technology and we got pesticides in the soil. We wanted cars and television sets and appliances and each of us thought he was the only one wanting that. Our dreams have come true at the expense of Lake Michigan. That doesn’t mean that the dreams were all wrong. It means there was an error somewhere in the wish and we have to fix it.” [An Eames Anthology page 311.]