Five IBM Commissioned Eames Projects Posted July 31, 2020 by Ross Atwood

For over 20 years, IBM hired Charles and Ray Eames to create promotional films, presentations, and educational products. The Eameses worked on so many projects for the company, Charles had a tie line (a phone extension line) in his Los Angeles office, providing them with a direct link to IBM. Here are Five projects that Charles and Ray completed for IBM.

 

1) The Information Machine: Creative Man and the Data Processor – 1957

IBM commissioned Charles and Ray to make a film about the electronic computer. The Information Machine: Creative Man and the Data Processor, was the first fully animated film made by the Eames Office and the beginning of many IBM projects the Eameses worked on. The film depicts the computer as the culmination of the tools and systems we have created over the centuries to process information. It also explores how humans solved problems both before, and after, this technology was invented.

The Information Machine screened at the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958.

 

2) Mathematica: The World of Numbers and Beyond – 1961

Charles and Ray were undoubtedly humanitarian. In the 1960s, the Eames Office continued concerning itself with promoting the needs of society as a whole by creating a series of exhibitions, public spaces, and technologically-enhanced environments.

The Eamesian process of distilling a complex idea into its most basic forms was essential in creating their first exhibition, Mathematica: A World of Numbers . . . and Beyond, hosted at the California Museum of Science and Industry in 1961. Mathematica was an interactive space designed for the sole purpose of educating the public on mathematical theories in a playful, accessible, and immersive nature.

Various interactive stations were created, including the “Celestial Mechanics Machine,” and the “Probability Machine,” which autonomously dropped plastic balls into a wall, always settling into an almost-exact bell curve of probability. Three versions of Mathematica were created: one for the California Museum of Science and Industry, one for the Seattle World’s Fair, and the last for the New York World’s Fair. Today, those versions are on permanent display in Boston, New York, and, most recently, Dearborn.

 

3) New York Worlds Fair Pavilion – 1964

The New York World’s Fair featured 140 pavilions spread over 646 acres of land. It served as a showcase for many American companies, including IBM, General Electric, Dupont, and Ford. This extravaganza, whose theme was “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe,” entertained and informed 51 million attendees.

IBM’s pavilion was situated on a 1.2 acre site alongside the “Pool of Industry,” and its gigantic Ovoid Theater floated nearly 100 feet above visitors’ heads. Eero Saarinen and Charles began working together on the pavilion concepts as early as 1961, and by 1962 the Eames Office had made the first of two presentation films to introduce their ideas to IBM.

The project was the Eames Office’s largest and most impressive undertaking to date. They were responsible for the exhibitions, graphics, signage, and films, all of which focused on the influence of computers in contemporary society, and the similarity between the ways that man and machine process and interpret information.

To reach the Ovoid Theater, visitors were lifted 53 feet into the egg-like structure by means of the “People Wall.” Configured like a grandstand, it could carry over 400 guests. The Theater housed a field of 22 multi-sized, multi-shaped screens where visitors watched the Eames presentation, Think. The Eames Office film, IBM at the Fair, offers an idea of the experience.

Think served as the main attraction of IBM’s Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The Eameses presented this multiscreen film in a large, egg-shaped structure, called the “Ovoid Theater,” that stood high above the canopy and central structure of the pavilion. To reach the Theater, visitors were lifted into the structure by means of the “People Wall,” which was configured like a grandstand and could carry up to 400 guests.

The film itself played out simultaneously on 14 large and eight small screens of different shapes and sizes. All the screens were coordinated with one another, creating a truly immersive movie experience.

Think explored problem-solving techniques for issues both commonplace and complex—from organizing the seating chart for a dinner party to city planning. Demonstrating the importance of the Guest/Host Relationship to the Eameses, an emcee greeted the audience and introduced some of the more complicated sequences.

 

4) Computer House of Cards – 1970

The Computer House of Cards, designed by Charles and Ray, date back to the IBM Pavilion during the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan. The Eames Office created them as souvenirs for IBM’s guests.

The Computer House of Cards were printed once, for that occasion alone, which makes them an extremely rare and desirable collectors item for Eames enthusiasts and technology buffs around the world.

Charles and Ray’s inspiration for the cards came from their work on the film, A Computer GlossaryThey use the same playing-card format as seen in the original House of Cards.

The photographs—shot up close and in stunning detail—exhibit the diversity and rich imagery of a computer’s inner and outer workings. They also mark a specific point in our technological history, as the Eameses made the images before the invention of the computer chip.

 

5) A Computer Perspective – 1971

The first of many Eames Office exhibitions designed for IBM, A Computer Perspective charted the development of the computer from 1890 to 1950.

This exhibition included vintage and modern machines and a densely-layered six-paneled History Wall that incorporated computer artifacts, documents, and photographs mounted at various depths.

 A Computer Perspective included a multiscreen slide show of 500 images called AV Rack, which highlighted the newest computer applications at that time.  It also featured an interactive computer game of “Twenty Questions,” in which visitors tried to guess which subject (animal, vegetable, or mineral) the computer had selected.

Computer Perspective opened at the IBM Corporate Exhibit Center in 1971 and ran through 1975.