It is easy to assume that projects and recognition happen by a stroke of genius or without many iterations. Charles Eames, when asked if he designed a chair in a flash, responded with, “Yes, it was a flash of inspiration…a kind of thirty-year flash.”
Over the coming five weeks, we’re highlighting five important Eames Office accomplishments for each of the five decades of Charles and Ray’s oeuvre. We hope this allows you to further grasp the timeline for their contributions and their ability to simultaneously balance architecture, furniture, films, photography, lectures, exhibitions, and a duty toward sustaining a design-centric, playful livelihood.
1) Time-Life Building executive lobby
The 1950s brought Charles and Ray opportunities to design environments for corporations, such as the continuous visual merchandising of the Eames Office-built Herman Miller Showroom in Los Angeles, California. As a continuation of this facet of their abilities, the Eameses were commissioned in 1960 to redesign the executive lobby for the Time-Life Building in New York City.
The Eames Office created the walnut reception desk, bookshelf display, the site-specific Eames Executive Chair, and the carved Walnut Stools. Charles stated: “Usually the development of a [furniture] design is triggered by some real and immediate need — a need of our own, or that of a friend, or a building or situation.” This proved to be true as Herman Miller continued the production of the Eames Executive Chair and Walnut Stools, translating the need of a singular client into a product for the masses.
2) Eames Tandem Sling Seating
Two years after designing the Eames Executive Chair and Walnut Stools, Charles and Ray collaborated with the Special Products Division of Herman Miller to create a seating solution for a very public environment: the airport.
“We emphasized that the responsibility of providing comfort and service to the passenger did not end with the termination of a flight: it included the furnishings of comfortable seating for the traveler who might have to wait several hours in the terminal,” wrote the director for the O’Hare International Airport interior planning project. In 1962, Eames Tandem Sling Seating was born. The design boasted comfortable, high-quality, identical seat-and-back cushions made to withstand years of heavy use.
3) Mathematica: A World of Numbers . . . and Beyond
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,” pictured above, 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.
4) Seattle World’s Fair & New York World’s Fair
In continuation of their exhibition design, the Eames Office was hired to produce ephemera and pavilions for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and the 1964 New York World’s Fair with the intention of giving the public an opportunity to learn about technology, science, and mathematics.
House of Science was a 14-minute presentation commissioned by the U.S. Department of State and screened in the Seattle Science Pavilion at the Seattle World’s Fair. Seven screens simultaneously projected videos and images to make a composite depiction of the advancements in science to date within the 20th century.
Two years later, the Eames Office utilized this multiscreen technique when commissioned by IBM to create a 54,000-square-foot pavilion for the New York World’s Fair. The IBM Pavilion was sectioned into six parts dedicated to the novice’s understanding of computer applications, data processing, and probability. Between the two World’s Fairs, over 62 million attendees had the possibility of visiting the Seattle Science Pavilion or the IBM Pavilion to be enchanted by mathematical and scientific ideas.
5) National Fisheries Center and Aquarium
With a few large-scale public exhibition spaces on the Eames Office’s roster in the 60s, the U.S. government entrusted Charles and Ray to design a national aquarium in Washington D.C. The 1966 design for the National Fisheries Center and Aquarium included numerous to-scale architectural models, an illustrated booklet made for the Department of the Interior outlining the proposal, and a film depicting the intended visitor experience.
Charles and Ray even went as far as hosting over 75 species of sea creatures within the Eames Office to intensely studying the nuances of the marine ecosystem. Ultimately, the national aquarium was never built due to a loss in governmental funding, but the ephemera created was intended to serve as the standard for the future if the project were ever reinstated.