Welcome to Case Study #8: The Eames House

Urban, LifestyleKarl Orotea | @KARLNIKOLAIComment

All shots taken with a Halma Flex TLR + Fujifilm Pro 160NS

Most of American history bores me to death. It wasn't until last quarter I had the pleasure of learning about Postwar Japan and Western influences initially forced against the Japanese which are now mildly ingrained forever in their country. From the embedded idea of Americana in Japanese fashion to the established democratic Japanese government, I then became more addicted in learning about the evolution of the arts during the postwar, modern period. One of the few things that peaked my interest during the period was and is the culture of design. What really got me was Charles Eames mission of designing something functional and readily available to the public. Neither am I fanatic architectural student, but I appreciate the idea of something being appealing and functional. (In that sense, maybe it's the reason why I'm a Kanye West fan and why I try as much to apply 'the best of both worlds' in everything I do). Anyway, the reason why I bring up design, architects and the postwar era was the incredible decision to act upon a need. America was entering a residential boom greatly affected by the returning of soldiers after WW2 (pre-baby boom obviously). The Case Study Houses were then born. This program ran from 1945 (right after the war) to 1966. It was sponsored by Arts & Architecture Magazine who commissioned major architects to design and create functional and inexpensive residential housing. The Eames house is Case Study #8 of 36. Many were not built, but what I find incredible is the irony behind the mission of the program. These artists were trying their best to make something low-cost and readily consumer-able. You then see the negative affects of profit-driven capitalism, inflation of price, rarity, and prolific historical reputation. I try not to entertain the thought of housing pricing assuming it's too much for me to even worry about so I'll use the Eames reclining chair as an example. Back then Eames reclining chairs were meant to be owned by everyone and now they've reached a skyrocketing price of an average $4000. Amazing to think something meant to be low-cost is worth more because of legacy and design. But I mean what isn't produced to earn a profit now-a-days? The George Orwell in me can't make sense of that.

If you plan on visiting the Eames House, take your time to read the educational plaques in the meadow and talk to the tour guide. It is a self guided tour, but you learn so much of the Eames design process of the house. You'll learn the every reason from the exposed tensioners, Ray's decision in color, the use of different materials, position of housing, the function of having a considerable amount of windows, and so much more. It was like everything was considered in making it the perfect house for the Eames. Also, bring a friend who appreciates architecture and the structural engineering aspect of the design process. I'm glad I did. It made me question the foundation of being built next to a cliff and its seismic vulnerability, which wasn't even considered at the time! 

What makes the Case Study Program the more amazing was that most of these prolific artistic movements stemmed during this modern era. A prime example would be Ansel Adams activism towards environmentalism and conservation, who is ultimately the reason why we have and still have a National Park system to this day. Just like Adams, the Eames worked with the government to help sufficing a public demand. Chairs were one of those demanded objects. In short, they were to be a functional, ergonomic and low-cost chair capable of being mass produced to be used in offices, airports, schools, etc. From what I remember of my talk with our tour guide, the government contacted Herman Miller, a furniture manufacturing company, who recruited the Eames to design chairs specifically for schools that could easily save space during the postwar era. These chairs are actually shown outside of the house and they welcome you to sit on them. Supposedly, there's pictures of a bunch of these chairs being thrown out and burned after the government was able to find cheaper and more functional (questionable choice here) chairs. Lo' and behold the Eames created chairs able to stack on top of one another for easy storage. Can I blame the Eames for ultimately having most of us experience the dreaded moment of having our teachers command us to stack chairs after assemblies and such? Yes, I definitely can.