inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #0 of 135: Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 18 Apr 02 15:57
    
 Eames Demetrios is a writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles who has just
 written the book _An Eames Primer_ about the life and work of Charles and
 Ray Eames.  The Eameses are best known for their furniture (somewhere,
 somehow, you have sat in an Eames Chair even if you don't know it by
 name!), but one of the real contributions of the book is that it helps
 people see what Demetrios calls the "seamless connection" between all
 their work from their chairs to the landmark Eames House, from
 exhibitions (like Mathematica currently at the Exploratorium in San
 francisco) to films like Powers of Ten. Eames Demetrios is their
 grandson as well as being the director of the Eames Office for the past
 8 years and he brings both perspectives to this book.  The book is
 ultimately a kind of a thematic biography and the first overview of
 their philosophy and design process to hit the bookstands.  The Eames
 Office is dedicated to communicating, preserving, and extending the
 work of Charles and Ray Eames. At the Eames Office site
 (www.eamesoffice.com) you can see examples of their work including a
 chapter from the Primer in pdf form at
 http://www.eamesoffice.com/primer.html.

 Bob Rossney is a software architect and writer who lives outside of 
 Denver. He has written about technology and culture for Salon, Wired, New 
 Scientist, and the Whole Earth Review.  
 
 His primary interest as a writer is in the way culture and technology 
 mold one another.  The anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote that we are 
 suspended in webs of significance of which we ourselves are the weavers;
 these webs of significance, which both support and constrain us, comprise
 what we call our "culture."  Technology is a product of culture, but it
 also shapes both what we think and feel and how we are capable of 
 thinking and feeling about it.
 
 As Eames Demetrios explains in _An Eames Primer_, the work of Charles and 
 Ray Eames emerged from exactly this dance between how we shape our tools 
 and how our tools shape us.  The greatness of the Eamses was that they 
 understood this dance enough to lead.

 Please join me in welcoming Eames and Bob to inkwell.vue!
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #1 of 135: Bob Rossney (rbr) Fri 19 Apr 02 12:33
    
I think a good first place to start in discussing _An Eames Primer_ is to
ask:  what brought you to write it?  As we talked about offline, there are
already numerous books about the work of the Eameses -- including one that
Ray Eames herself helped assemble.  Why write another one?
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #2 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Fri 19 Apr 02 13:15
    
I really felt it was time to pull together Charles and Ray's design
philosophy and process all in one place.  I also wanted there to be a
text driven book, a book you could curl up with or read on the subway. 
As beautiful and wonderful as the objects they created were, the ideas
behind them are maybe even more important and I felt that there was no
book one could pick up to get them.

 Ray's book that you mention, the Eames Design book (the co-authors
were John and Marilyn Neuhart), is a what she called "a book without
adjectives."  She wanted the projects to speak for themselves and it is
almost a catalogue raisonee.  And that is wonderful and worthwhile
(and a wonderful book), but it is very different.  It is also expensive
and therefore really hard for students to purchase.  And it is
difficult to read cover-to-cover as a story.

The other books all have their strengths, but none of them really
capture the spirit of what Charles and Ray were all about.   Over the
last few years, I have learned alot of things both through interviews
and research and watching the films and reading letters.  But the only
someone could hear those stories was to email me or call me or go to
one of my talks, and I really felt that had to change.  This
information had to be out there.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #3 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Fri 19 Apr 02 14:17
    
to continue:  why did it have to be out there?  well, I think first of
all, because there is a lot of interest in Charles and Ray's work and
so it is good to have a book talking about the How and Why.  But the
other thing is that I think their process is something that we can all
take and include in our lives whether people are designers or not. 
Design is not simply a professional skill, it is a life skill. I hope
the book conveys a bit of that.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #4 of 135: Bob Rossney (rbr) Fri 19 Apr 02 14:53
    
I thought it a little strange, when I started reading the book, that it was
called a "Primer."  Particularly at the beginning, it seemed to be assuming
a considerable level of familiarity with the Eameses' career and work.  This
seemed to contradict the notion of what a primer is all about.

Now that I've read it to the end, I think I understand why it's a primer.
Can you talk about this notion directly?  Why is this book a primer?
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #5 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Fri 19 Apr 02 18:02
    
Well, the first level is that it was a play on the name of the Eames
film, A Communications Primer, which was the third completed film that
Charles and Ray made in order to get some of the ideas of
communications theory out to a broader audience--particularly to
architects.  So when I first thought of writing a book like this (about
5 or 6 years ago) in my mind it was always An Eames Primer.  

But on another level, I really wanted people to get what I felt were
the key ideas about Charles and Ray's life and work.  And to me that
was not so much a list of products but a group of concerns that they
explored and also insights that I felt I had gained into their work and
process.  These are things like: constraints, the honest use of
materials, the role of photography to the office, 901 as a space, the
house, iterations, design addressing the need, the issue of style and a
lot more.

But the point was: I really felt this was the good stuff that people
needed to hear and so i wanted to write a book that took you through
the key ideas in a meaningful way.  A book that would be an
introduction on one level, but a book that would reward the aficianado
as well.  That's always a fine line to walk--but I really wanted to
pull off both levels.  Part of it was that I felt that there was so
little information of this kind out there, that even people who were
passionate and relatively about the Eameses work were hungry for this
kind of information.

I also wanted the constraint of making it short but not
superficial--as I said: text driven.

So that is where I was coming from.

To see a little more about A Communications Primer, go to:
http://www.eamesoffice.com/films/Communications_Prime.html
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #6 of 135: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 19 Apr 02 23:44
    
I am wondering what this means:

> 901 as a space

It sounds very mysterious.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #7 of 135: Bob Rossney (rbr) Sat 20 Apr 02 00:30
    
901 is shorthand for 901 Washington Blvd. in Santa Monica, the location of
the Eames Office.

There is a lot of remarkable and strange information in this book that I
haven't seen anywhere else -- for instance Charles finding his career
at Washington University cut short because he was prematurely pro-Frank
Lloyd Wright.  Or his year in Mexico, which I don't recall reading about
in any previous writings about him.  (I'd like to get back to that year,
because I'd like to hear what more you have to say about it, but that's
another question.  Don't let me forget.)

But one of the most remarkable funds of information in the book addresses
what I think -- and, apparently, you think as well -- is a question that
needs to be answered at length and in detail:  What was Ray's role?

Nearly everything they produced was credited to "Charles and Ray Eames."
But it was always apparent that Charles had a leadership role, a sort of
master-builder -- he was the architect, the articulator of theories, and,
to be blunt, the man.  But it was never "Charles Eames, with Ray."

One could argue that well, it's obviously collaborative work.  But dozens
and dozens of people worked collaboratively on products of the Eames
Office and didn't get credited at Ray's level.

Most explanations I've seen of Ray's role have been vague and somewhat
patronizing.  There's always a whiff of inspiring-the-great-man to them.
Your discussion of the office's working techniques, and the ways in which 
Ray helped projects jell, sheds some valuable light onto what a 
complicated process creative collaboration actually is.  It's a difficult 
subject to discuss clearly because the great-man myth is so compelling and
distracting.

It's easy to get a sense of how formidable Charles was.  It's a lot harder
to get why Ray was essential.  I know it's difficult to answer this 
question outside of the context of other things that we haven't talked 
about yet, but can you say a few things about how Ray made the process 
work?
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #8 of 135: (fom) Sat 20 Apr 02 00:40
    
(I thought nearly everything was credited to "Charles Eames" for a long 
long time -- that's how I remember it, anyway.)
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #9 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sat 20 Apr 02 08:47
    
>the book addresses what I think -- and, apparently, you think as well
-- is a question that needs to be answered at length and in detail: 
What was Ray's role?<

Well, the first thing I want to say is that I put the chapter that
focuses on Charles and Ray's design partnership as number 18 out of 22
chapters. And that was very deliberate, because I wanted the reader to
experience the ambiguity of the issue in the context of learning about
the work BEFORE I pronounced my own take on it.

For that reason I am very wary of pulling my thoughts too far out of
context because it is such a complex area.  I will say I have gotten
very frustrated with people trying to summarize this partnership
either, as you say, with the whole she-inspired-him thing or the other
extreme: she was the creative one, he was the implementer.  Another one
I often get is that Charles must have done the Eames House's hard
masculine frame and Ray the soft interiors. Is anyone that boringly
subdivided?  No one I know.

But behind even comments like these is a genuine curiosity (I am
almost always asked this question when I give a talk) and I felt it was
time to convey the richness of the topic.  That's why I like the quote
from Jehane Burns that "If the office were an island they would have
been equals."  In some ways of course the office WAS an island, but
ultimately it was not.  And in that I see a way of honoring and
acknowledging Charles' powerful force and at the same time honor and
acknowledge Ray's genuine and substantive contribution to the
partnership.

I don't believe what Ray did was as simple as add a Ray "touch" to
things in progress.  I think that she deeply understood the guest/host
relationship.  I think she brought a structure with her from the world
of painting.  And I think that she and Charles had a deeply intuitive
connection.  I also believe that all their work (in all media) evolved
from their previous work and since they really did start as a duo
solving problems and the scale of the office took off from there, I
think that gives Ray a special status as well.

I do believe Charles set the overall direction of the office, based on
much conversation with clients and staff members.  If you think about
their films and the notion of Charles and Ray directing them and
interesting thing comes up: what is the role of the director?  Well,
directing the actors--that's not an issue one way or another in their
films.  But the shooting (the photography) was truly a gift of
Charles's and the arrangements (the set design if you will) was truly a
gift of Ray's.  And yet Charles would work on the arrangements and Ray
would look through the lens.

My point?  Let's be wary of completely deconstructing the achievements
and thereby missing the alchemy that came from it being a partnership.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #10 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sat 20 Apr 02 09:06
    
<(I thought nearly everything was credited to "Charles Eames" for a
long  long time -- that's how I remember it, anyway.)>

Fom has a completely fair point and yet even that matter is a bit more
complex than it might seem.

The Eames Chairs were generally credited to Charles Eames alone for a
long time and yet: 

As early as 1961 or so Charles and Ray TOGETHER won the Kaufman
Industrial Design award for the fiberglass chairs.  

The Herman Miller timelines referred to both of them.

Charles always said that fully half of what we have done is due to
Ray.

And the films almost always say Charles and Ray Eames.

One of things that I thought was interesting as I looked through old
records and stuff was how much more Ray was acknowledged at the time
than the popular wisdom would suggest.

I return to Jehane's comment: if the office were an island, Charles
and Ray would have been equals.   Because there was a very powerful way
in which Charles interacted with the outside world.  Both as a
persuasive force presenting their ideas but also as a thinker seeing
intellectual opportunities.

In the same interview, Jehane observed that after Charles' death Ray
"spoke as a full participant but made Charles the protagonist."  That
was true in life as well as death to some degree and offers another way
of looking at it.

I guess what I am really against is oversimplifying: they had rich
lives and adventures and however they joined forces to engage the world
together, it really worked for them.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #11 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sat 20 Apr 02 09:09
    
I should have said that Jehane Burns Kuhn was a staff member at the
Eames Office for about 10 years and worked closely with Charles and
Ray--especially on the text of exhibition and films.

The interviews I speak of are an ongoing project of the Eames Office
today:  The Eames Video Oral History Project.  I have been interviewing
many different people over the years who worked there or were friends.
 I probably have about 200 hours of interviews so far and they are
just great.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #12 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sat 20 Apr 02 09:17
    
<901 is shorthand for 901 Washington Blvd. in Santa Monica, the
location of the Eames Office.>

To amplify on Bob's comment:

901 W. Washington (and Washington is now called Abbot Kinney for those
of you in the LA area) was the home of the Eames Officce from 1943 to
1989.  And it was just an incredible space.  It was so important to the
Eames experience that when Ray died I decided to make a film
documenting it before we closed the building down (it was about to be
condemned for earthquake reasons).  The film was called 901: after 45
years of working.

It was a huge warehouse that had been a former bus garage.  At first
the Eames Office used only the front few rooms, then later Herman
Miller (manufacturer of the Eames Furniture starting in the late 1940s)
used the back half as a factory.  By the late 1950s, the Eames Office
took over the whole space and they made films, mocked buildings, made
amazing models --everything.

I could go on, but I suspect some future questions will lead us back
to this.  But knowing something about 901 and how it worked is
important to understanding who Charles and Ray were.  So important that
I put a flipbook of a steadicam shot from my film in the lower right
hand corner of each page of the Eames Primer so that, in a sense, the
book would be immersed in 901.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #13 of 135: Bob Rossney (rbr) Sat 20 Apr 02 11:15
    
Let's turn for a moment to the lota.  Because I think the idea of the lota
ties in with the importance of 901 to the Eameses' approach.

The third chapter of _An Eames Primer_ discusses Charles and Ray's
fascination with this object, which is a traditional brass water jar
common in India.  The significant thing about the lota is that it has
become, over its evolution, exactly right.  The design of the lota addresses
the need of retrieving, carrying, storing, and pouring water.  And the
"designer" of the lota is every artisan over several centuries who looked
at a previous version of the lota and thought to change the design slightly,
adding a handle, or flaring the rim, or making the jar larger or smaller.
Over time, the solution to the lota's problem space emerged from these
many hands making many passes, many large and small alterations to what had
come before, until the end result that we see before us is the best solution
to the problem that human ingenuity has been able to devise.

By coincidence, at the time that I read this chapter I was enmeshed in a
fairly deep discussion with a Christian friend of mine about the
"intelligent design" theory of speciation, which posits that random
mutation and selection couldn't possibly result in the biological structures
that we see (and are) in the world today.  And what struck me deeply about
the lota was how much like natural selection this process of design is:
there is certainly a kind of focused intelligence behind introducing changes
into the design stream, but ultimately nature bats last.  Either an
innovation works better than what has preceded it, and it becomes part of
the canonical form, or it doesn't, and it gets abandoned.  Design and
evolution embody the same basic process.

And how this gets back to 901 -- and this is another aspect of the book
that I found so enlightening -- is that 901 was a laboratory for this kind
of process, a sort of proving ground where designers could come up with
ideas, make them concrete, and then begin subjecting them, in prototype,
to the rigors of the real world that they would ultimately survive or fail
in.

It also seems to me that despite the exhausting, iterative process of design
that the office employed, there's no way that the office could afford the
real-world cycle of refinement that produced the lota -- they didn't have
centuries to bring a design to market.  One thing that comes through in your
discussion of 901 is how important Charles's eye was to cutting off the
decades:  he could look at a design and recognize that it wasn't going to
work very very quickly.

And this whole complicated set of ideas actually does get me to a question.
Given this approach to design -- exhaustive, expensive, time-consuming,
iterative, filled with continuous refinement -- how is it that the office
was actually able to get products to market?  What was that part of the
process like?  How did they know when they were done?
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #14 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sat 20 Apr 02 15:06
    
Excellent prelude to a key question.  And everything you said about
the lota and more important the lota's process and Charles and Ray's
fascination with and awareness of it is the reason it was such an early
chapter in the book.

One short answer is in your comment: a design was ready when Charles
said it was ready.  And many people at the office phrased it exactly
that way in our interviews.

but there are fuller answers:

First, Charles and Ray were acutely aware of two ends of the spectrum
of how to deal with deadlines.  At one end, you do something over and
over until you get it right--no matter how long it takes.  Charles was
once asked, "Did you design the Eames chair in a flash?" and Charles
said, "Yes, a 30-year flash."  In that sense, every idea flowed into
every other.  Dick Donges, who worked at the Office, once told me that
Charles and Ray weren't done designing an object even when it went into
production.  The Lounge Chair is a perfect example.  The first few
dozen or so were basically hand assembled.  No one knew if they would
take off or not.  As they looked at those, they tweaked them a little
and that became the final design.  The chair itself took a couple of
years to design--Herman Miller undoubtedly despaired that it would ever
be done.  But it was and was a smashing success.

At the other end, they had an expression which was: the best you can
do between now and Tuesday is a kind of best you can do.  In the case
of the Lounge Chair there is a great story about the film that they
made about the making of the lounge chair.  The film was made on the
spur of the moment in about 5 days.  And it is wonderful and fresh too.

The point is: they had an absolutely finetuned sense of how to balance
that.  Pushing the envelope but valuing the spirit of the deadline (as
the Eameses' Franklin and Jefferson film says about Benjamin
Franklin).

second, they weren't afraid of doing something again.  They believed
in the learn by doing process.  So that even if they couldn't replicate
centuries of growth, they could focus on the essence of any given
problem.

So they knew something was done when it worked and they weren't afraid
either of getting involved with something a deadline (I think actually
they relished the constraint provided by that) and they weren't afraid
of saying it could be better.

A couple of years a go a conductor wanted to conduct Elmer Bernstein's
beautiful Tocatta for Toy Trains score live to a print of the film. 
So he practiced to our homevideo of it with the orchestra.  And then he
needed a 16mm print.  So I grabbed one from our archives that hadn't
been used a lot and would therefore be more pristine.

After his dress rehearsal I got a panicked call from him: what
happened to the movie?  It turned out that I had grabbed a finished
print that was 1 minute longer.  I had occasionally seen references to
"a short version"--but it turned out that the short version was the
final.  Charles and Ray had completed the film made a final print and
then revised--and that is the version used today.: the one they always
showed.

We got the conductor a real print, but it was  real reminder of how
they understood the value of a completed product to making the finished
product better.  I think it is something we can all relate to but
don't always act upon.

However, I think we all observed it however watching the evolution of
websites: very few successful sites kept slow loading and clumsy
graphics up there for long. But sometimes it took going live to
understand how to improve it.  I am sure the Well went through that, I 
know our site has.

Further references on those 3 films:

http://www.eamesoffice.com/films/Franklin_Jefferson.html

http://www.eamesoffice.com/films/Tocatta_Trains.html

http://www.eamesoffice.com/films/Lounge_Chair.html
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #15 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sat 20 Apr 02 19:07
    
I guess I am scaring everyone with these long answers...  But there is
so much to say on all these good points!
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #16 of 135: Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 20 Apr 02 20:02
    

I followed those links and discovered the filmography - there's an 
enormous number of films there.  Can the films still be viewed?
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #17 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sat 20 Apr 02 20:25
    
Charles and Ray made over 120 or so short films.  We have about 33 of
them available on home video and DVD and another 15 or so can be gotten
by special order.  But Volumes 1-5 of the video series are a great
place to start.  Many independent video stores carry them or you can
order them from our website.  Each volume (except volume 1 with the
Powers of Ten) is about one hour in length.

We also have some links online where you can play a few films:

http://www.eamesoffice.com/resources/webcast_downloads_resource.html

that has Lounge Chair in its entirety and clips from Eratosthenes,
Tops, and Kaleidoscope Jazz Chair.

Obviously the quality is a lot better in person, but it is a good
start.  The films are really Charles and Ray's essays and are very
important to see.

Enjoy
  
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permalink #18 of 135: Bob Rossney (rbr) Sat 20 Apr 02 23:00
    
Is _A Communications Primer_ available yet?  When I discovered the Eames
films on video, there were only four volumes available, and it wasn't in any
of them.

Also:  is it even possible to show "Glimpses of the USA" again?
  
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permalink #19 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sun 21 Apr 02 01:02
    
We now have 5 volumes and we are working on a 6th.  But we are also
trying to make more titles available as single titles and, yes!, A
Communications Primer is the first in that format.  Dubs are basically
made on demand, so it is more for the library market.  But here is the
link for a special order
http://www.eamesoffice.com/catalog/detail.php?prod_id=298&category=202

But we hope to have it out less expensively within the year.  It is
quite an amazing film both for its ambition and the fact that the
essential ideas are still valid.

Now, for those of you don't know, Glimpses of the USA was a 7 screen
presentation Charles and Ray did for the American Pavilion in Moscow in
1959 (it was screened in a huge Bucky Fuller dome on screens a total
of nearly a football field across about 50 feet away from the site of
the Kitchen Debate).

Here's a link that will at least show the configuration of the
screens:

http://www.eamesoffice.com/films/Glimpses_USA.html

It was a presentation of America done in 2200 images over 12 and half
minutes or so.  Therefore, literal reconstruction would be a challenge
even if the negatives had not been lost.  but we found a print in our
archives that had been used as a record for 6 of the screens.  Then we
found the notes for the final version and  transferred those images to
video.

It is this version that we presented on 7 video screens at the Library
of Congress/Vitra Design Museum show that started in 1997 and came to
the US for 4 cities and is now back in Berlin.

Unfortunately that's pretty much the only way to see it.  it is hard
to get the full effect without having 7 separate screens, so we will
probably not release it as a single channel video.  Maybe we will do
special screenings from time to time. (And of course the Russians who
saw on the big screens must have had an overpowering visual
experience).
  
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permalink #20 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sun 21 Apr 02 01:03
    
I should have added that the Glimpses presentation is done with 7
different DVDs running in sync.
  
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permalink #21 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sun 21 Apr 02 01:10
    
Also, I wanted to say there is a nice video clip on our site of Billy
Wilder discussing a small (but helpful) contribution he made to the
Glimpses of the USA.  It is at the bottom of the tribute page.

http://www.eamesoffice.com/wilder.html

I don't mean to overdo it with these links, but I hope it gives people
who haven't seen the book a chance to get a feel for some of the more
specific topics we are talking about.
  
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permalink #22 of 135: Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 21 Apr 02 08:19
    
This is all great stuff.

Going back to the question of evolution in design, many designers feel as if
the moment that a product is released they could very easily take the
product and start the design process all over again. So, knowing when it's
time to say "Enough!" and push it out the door is key to a designer's
success.

How did the Eameses feel about some of their early work? Was he critical of
ideas that came out of the office years later? Did he ever think about
updating some of the chairs?

And also, what sort of people were they? That is, did they tend to be
critical of the poor design decisions that seem to surround us every day? My
guess is that they found beauty in surprising places, but I wonder how he
felt about, say, driving one of Detroit's finest or visiting a department
store.

(My apologies--I see I go back and forth between "he" and "they"--I suppose
I haven't completely embraced Ray's role in the team.)
  
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permalink #23 of 135: (fom) Sun 21 Apr 02 09:14
    
Oh there's a great story about how the Eameses used to drive Fords 
until...

But I'll let Eames tell it.
  
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permalink #24 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sun 21 Apr 02 10:16
    
<How did the Eameses feel about some of their early work? Was he
critical of ideas that came out of the office years later? Did he ever
think about updating some of the chairs?>


I think part of it is valuing the spirit of the deadline.  I think
that's why they liked having the client in the equation because it
anchored you to the real world.

And I think that they also were always moving forward.

One fascinating thing for me about conducting interviews with people
at the office is that I always asked people if they remembered Charles
or Ray discussing the early years of the office or their pre-LA years. 
What was fascinating is that they all knew a couple of vague things
indirectly (like from their reading), but they hardly ever knew
anything directly (from the horse's mouth one might say) about
experiences before the staff member's arrival.  They all said it never
came up.  it wasn't that it was an offlimits conversation, it was just
that Charles and Ray were always focused on the future.

So were they critical of earlier work?  I think they saw the work
before 1941 (when they came to LA and effectively started the office)
--with the possible exception of the Organic Chair -- as being part of
their development but not as accomplished.  Important structurally
(like Charles's experiences at Cranbrook and Ray's with Hans Hofmann). 
Jeanine Oppewall remembered seeing Charles at an exhibit (Connections)
that included some early work and Charles saying: Boy, you get to make
alot of mistakes.  (it was something like that, I don't have my notes)

But you were asking maybe more about the early work of them as a
team????

In that case, Charles once said (perhaps somewhat self-deprecatingly,
in the early 1970s) he really felt that there was essentially one idea
in the fiberglass chairs and LCW together.  (the idea of the pursuit of
the single shell chair).  So they could be quite clear-eyed. 

One specific example of being always willing to challenge the
completed work is that they were re-examining the shockmount (the
attachment of the base to the seat and back) as late as the 1972 or so
even though mature products with the shockmount had been in production
since 1946 in wood and 1950 in plastic.

The whole pursuit of the single shell chair is an example of not being
satisfied.

But there is a difference between thinking that there is an even
better solution out there and beating oneself up unnecesarily.

I also find it quite moving that in 1971, in the Norton Lectures,
given a chance to sum up a life of work, Charles ended with Tocatta for
Toy Trains, a 1957 film.

Last, did they go back????  YES!  Powers of Ten was made 2 and half
times.  Tops was made Twice.  Toys were in the first and last projects.
 The Eames House was completed  twice from a blueprint perspective.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #25 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sun 21 Apr 02 10:50
    
<That is, did they tend to be critical of the poor design decisions
that seem to surround us every day?>

Absolutely, but even then they tried attack them on a deeper level.

Here I am thinking of the comments on Los Angeles:

"California, and particularly Los Angeles, is a very special example.
If it were as good a lesson as it is an example, it would be especially
helpful. . . . People in large numbers from many different cultures
came together to form a community—leaving all their traditions, social
mores, inherited land responsibilities and restraints behind. The form
the community has taken is more a product of its freedoms than of its
restraints, and the result is frightening. . . . A very large community
has been forced to make many decisions large and small—without the
restraining effects of a common cultural tradition, or limitations that
come with isolation, or social responsibilities of long-standing or a
lore of materials and their appropriate use.” 

But what is important is that they didn't use this insight to become
reactionary.  Similarly, they felt that what schools wanted out of the
arts should be present (and in fact was) is other disciplines, not
compartmentalized out into a solitary place.

And time one of the reasons I started the book with the stories about
appropriateness is that they recognized that sometimes good design is
cheap (like a top in an Indian market) and sometimes expensive like a
Mercedes) and bad design can be cheap or expensive.  The price alone is
not a sufficient factor.
  

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