Thinking in Powers of Ten

Thinking big and small: Tools for teaching and understanding the importance of scale.

We hear about scale every day, whether it be supertankers, stars burning thousands of lightyears away, the study of microscopic viruses, or global warming. Understanding scale, or as the Eameses said, “the effect of adding another zero,”  has the power to make us better scholars and better citizens.

Charles and Ray’s documentary, Powers of Ten—one of most famous short films ever made—has been seen as an exemplar for teaching and understanding the importance of scale for nearly four decades. Now you can explore these ideas with your class, company, or family in tandem with Scale is the New Geography, a companion film to Powers of Ten by Charles’s grandson, Eames Demetrios. Learn more about the films and watch them below.

Powers of Ten
Starting at a lakeside picnic in Chicago, Powers of Ten transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible as nothing more than a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inwardinto the hand of the sleeping picnickerwith ten times more magnification every ten seconds. The journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom, which is within a DNA molecule inside of a white blood cell.

Charles and Ray first created this documentary short in 1968. The film was called A Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film Dealing with the Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of things in the Universe. In the spirit of iteration for which they are known, they rereleased it in 1977 under the name Powers of Ten. The film is an adaptation of the 1957 book, Cosmic View, by Kees Boeke, and more recently is the basis of a new book version. Both the film and book adaptations follow the form of Boeke’s seminal work; however, they feature color and photography rather than black and white drawings. In 1998, Powers of Ten was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Scale is the New Geography
Scale is the New Geography unlocks the true potential of the film, Powers of Ten. It features 12 components that show you how to teach scale by Eames Office director and Charles’s grandson, Eames Demetrios. In addition to this film, Demetrios has curated the world-traveling exhibition, Powers of Ten, and lectured on scale in over 25 countries. Watch the main component below, or purchase the complete DVD at the Eames Shop