Los Angeles as a City without Constraints Posted May 10, 2019 by Kelsey Rose Williams

To illustrate why constraints are important for developing a particular design style, Charles Eames describes Los Angeles as a city born from a lack of constraints:

“If you want an example of a complete lack of restraint, Los Angeles is probably the prime example of all cities. That is, there were no constraints of how they build, the way they plan, and the way they related the life to the city—one to the other. Now, there’s a general habit of blaming this kind of chaos on California, the state itself, but the matter is that this is exactly what would happen if anybody from any part of the world would operate without any kind of constraints at all. I don’t know what one could really do about it except if people get into the habit of considering their own problems in light of other peoples’ problems. That is, sort of viewing it as a community, as you have to—or had to, at least in villages and towns of much older times. They had very real constraints like materials available and the kind of craft restraints. In countries where there was really no wood, they would point to brick or adobe or stucco and plaster. In cities where timber was available, they developed a sort of remarkably refined wood structure. It’s the unity that the limitation of material gives that really causes a—or what we think of as a—’style’ or a universal ‘look’ of a city. A city like Los Angeles really has no built-in constraints. People are free to do anything in relation to anything else and even a good building, a good piece of architecture, would, in fact, seem inappropriate against something that didn’t work with it. The materials? Anything is available! You think of it and you can build it here. As a result, we have a hodgepodge, a mixture of materials and styles, that makes it almost impossible to have any kind of continuity.”


This insight was transcribed from the archival footage of Charles Eames speaking for WNET’s “An Eames Celebration” film in 1973. The photograph shows the Eames-designed Herman Miller Showroom on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.