Five Decades in Five Weeks, 1980s

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.”

In the coming five weeks, we’re highlighting five important Eames Office accomplishments for each of the five decades of Charles and Ray’s oeuvre. Our hope is that 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)  Transitioning the Eames Office for the Library of Congress

With Charles’s death in August 1978, Ray suddenly found herself without her decades-long partner in life, love, and work. She alone was in charge of running the Office and caring for their home. As the ’80s began, she made an undeniably tough decision to shift her attention, wrapping up current projects and focusing instead on the Eames legacy.

Ray understood that preserving the enormous oeuvre she and Charles had created in the previous forty years might be a larger project than any she and Charles had taken on together. She got to work, put to use her astonishing talent for recollecting names, dates, colors, and other important project details, and began the daunting task of cataloging every two-dimensional record from the 15,000-square-foot Office.

There were approximately 750,000 records, including photographs, prints, drawings, architectural sketches, Christmas cards, correspondence, and graphic items used for projects and exhibitions.

Ray gifted these items to the Library of Congress. It was a priority to her that the materials—evidence of the Eames Office’s rich history—be accessible to students of all kind and made publicly accessible to those most interested in the life and work of the Eames identity.

2)  Powers of Ten [Book]

Based on Charles and Ray’s most recognized film, Powers of Ten (1977), the Eames Office worked with Philip and Phylis Morris to produce the 1982 publication, Powers of Ten, about the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero. The book was published in many languages in addition to English, such as German, French, Italian, Korean, and Japanese.

The publication includes topics such as an essay centered on looking at the world; units of length; chronology; reading the rainbow; how to write numbers large and small; and the rules for a journey of mind and eye.

An excerpt of Ray’s introduction to the book offers a closer look at why the Eames Office chose to create it: “During the making of Powers of Ten, ideas poured out, fascinating information piled up—more than could ever be fitted into the constraints of the film. But now, in book form, the opportunity exists not only for the straight line journey, but also for enriching additions and insights at each power, for all our pleasure—expanding our understanding, expanding our knowledge.

3)  Eames Sofa

As Ray wrapped up projects at the Eames Office, she put the last piece of Eames furniture into production: the Eames Sofa. Charles and Ray built on previous casting techniques with this design and applied their belief of “the honest use of materials” by including polished aluminum, walnut, and leather.

Configured as either a love seat or three-seat sofa, the design mirrored the sentiments of the Sofa Compact and the Aluminum Group series in that it worked well in both office and home environments. The Eameses designed this piece during Charles’s lifetime, but Herman Miller, with Ray’s guidance, didn’t begin producing the Eames Sofa until 1984.

4) The NID Charles Eames Award

In 1988, the National Institute of Design (NID) in India founded the Charles Eames Award, an endowed fellowship in the honor of the late Charles Eames and the couple’s contributions to the Indian design industry.

This award symbolized Charles and Ray’s three-and-a-half decade involvement in India and marked the 30th anniversary of the completion of the India Report. A few months prior to her death, Ray traveled to India to present the first award to ceramist Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay.

5) Eames Design Publication

In the 1980s, the majority of Ray and the Office’s efforts were focused on the Library of Congress archival project; however, this helped Ray gather information and photographs for a publication that would later become Eames Design. The book consists of roughly 3,500 photographs over 450 pages and chronologically charts every project worked on by the Eames Office from 1941 through 1988.

Although Ray died before correcting gaps in the text and finishing the publication to her liking, it remains a great achievement—true to her vision of “a book without adjectives.” This important resource is still the most solidified account of the oeuvre of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames.

Click here to return to the beginning of the series, exploring the Eames Office work in the 1940s.