In a series of commissions for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and the 1968 San Antonio World’s Fair, the Eames Office created exhibitions, films, and slideshow presentations related to the topics of math and science. The Eames exhibition Mathematica: A World of Numbers…and Beyond found a home in New York and Seattle, boasting interactive experiments and countless graphic displays. Quite memorable to history was the egg-shaped IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. The structure hoisted over 400 seated people upward into its floating theatre, presenting a cinematic show of a lifetime.
In a theatre adjacent to the IBM festivities at the Seattle World’s Fair, the Eames film The House of Science was looped for the fair’s 9.6 million attendees. After the fair’s six-month lifespan expired, IBM funded the reproduction of The House of Science so that it could be widely circulated. This particular film serves as a prime example of the Eames approach of distilling complex ideas down into smaller, more manageable bits of information. The audience of these presentations was never to be professionals and scholars, but instead, the common person. Age was also a barrier to be broken. All ages and types of people deserved to be educated properly on a topic so many feel intimidated by: science.
While seated on the auditorium floor, well-dressed fair visitors watched a screen above: six images were projected simultaneously, changing to the next frame in tandem with one another. A cartoon spanned the first few minutes of the film, and set the historic stage for 1962’s view of science. Trumpets and flutes transitioned the viewers to photographs of men (and some women) and the exterior of buildings. “These are the men that inhabit the house [of science]. That work in it, live in it, built it…This is about what scientists look like. And these are the places where they do their work. From the outside, the buildings are as varied as the scientists themselves. Large and small, young and old.” Along with continued narration, the image montages that followed showed: scientific instruments, sunlight, the stars, the moon, lakes and rivers, the cracked floor of the desert, boiling lava, the sea and its animal life, the earth and its animal life, cities filled with people, architecture, murals and petroglyphs, cameras, microscopes, telescopes, astronauts, arctic explorers, handwritten data, computers, and more. After being softly bombarded with these images, it is hard to imagine an aspect of life that isn’t touched by the sciences!
It is after these simple explanations that the film gets a little more poetic. The narrator says:
“With a special kind of curiosity and a sense of elegance, the scientist uncovers hidden relationships. Science is essentially an artistic or philosophical enterprise carried on for its own sake. In this, it is more akin to play than to work. But it is quite a sophisticated play in which the scientist viewed nature as a system of interlocking puzzles. He assumes that the puzzles have a solution, that they will be fair. He holds to a faith in the underlying order of the universe. His motivation is his fascination with the puzzle itself—his method a curious interplay between idea and experiment. His pleasures are those of any artist. High on the list of prerequisites for being a scientist is. . .his ability and his desire to reach out with his mind and his imagination [the narrator whispers] to something outside himself.”
This film equates a scientist to an artist, to a philosopher, to a curious explorer, and most surprisingly, to an ordinary person. What a relief it is to learn that, in a way, we are all scientists.
Read the introduction to the Eames Archives: An Image as an Idea series here, and stay tuned for monthly installments.