Eames occupied a
unique position in the design world from 1940 when he and
Saarinen won the competition for the design of a chair by
the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But it is not just
for his designs that he is important. Eames, and his wife
and partner Ray Eames, achieved something much more rare:
they caused a shift in the way we look at everything.
Part of the secret of the Eames' success was that the
items he picked for display were never from the world of
high-art. Perhaps only Los Angeles, with its
free-wheeling cultural ambience and its questioning of
European values, could have nurtured and sustained such a
frankly hedonist, and whimsical, approach to design.
For John Entenza's Case Study Program for Arts and
Architecture, Eames built a residence in Pacific
Palisades, California. The Eames House is on a beautiful
site: a steep bank with eucalyptus trees along one side.
When the steel framing members were already fabricated,
Eames completely changed the design, from a bridge house
spanning between two supports to a ground-hugging house
tucked into the bank. The steel frame, cleverly detailed
to emphasize its lightness, has a skin that is typically
Eames--windows and panels just as found in the catalogue.
Nearby is another CSH built for John Entenza himself, the
Equalling the house in importance are the series of
chairs he designed over a period of thirty years. The
youthful inventiveness of the early chairs is still most
appealing; those shells of formed plywood or fibreglass
on light metal supports have yet to loose their allure
and stark appeal. In retrospect, they still seem fresh
and even contemporary.
The story of modern design has been a very sombre one.
Charles and Ray Eames added a touch of whimsy, lightness
and delicacy, which expanded into their museum
installations and films. They could easily get away with
it because of their combined characteristics and
superlative technical knowledge coupled with a sharp
discerning eye for color and form.