If we talk about 20th century architecture and design, it is impossible to exclude from the list of authors the couple responsible for the most iconic designs of Modern Art. Architects, designers and directors, Charles and Ray Eames – as a sentimental and creative couple – became names renowned for their technical and theoretical contributions, seeking the ethical avant-garde of creation in any of the subjects. To this end, the importance of refined design was linked to its function.
On the occasion of the fortieth and thirtieth anniversary of the death of both of them (Charles and Ray, respectively), on the same 21st of August, we bring you a brief overview of the life and work of the American couple.
Choose your corner, start picking carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability, and you can change the world.”
Charles & Ray Eames
Ray Kaiser, later Eames, (1912-1988) had a complex childhood, where successive moves and the early death of her father led her to understand life in a plastic way, much closer to retirement and intimate and natural rest. This marked the spirit of design that made the marriage, present from children’s toys to architecture and furniture, leap to fame. After studying abstract impressionism with Hans Hofmann, at the age of 24 he formed the American Abstract Artists Club in New York. After his mother’s death in 1940, he moved to Michigan on the advice of his friend Ben Baldwin, seeking to expand his art beyond the limits of expressionist painting.
Charles Eames (1907-1978) began studying architecture at the University of St. Louis (Washington), although after two years he decided to leave his studies partly because of disagreements with his tutors, who – according to some sources – called him “too modern” and accused him of defending Frank Lloyd Wright. Fascinated by the philosophy of Eliel Saarinen – father of Eero Saarinen, with whom Charles would later share a studio – he sought asylum in his studio and began a friendship with the architect, who recommended that he finish his studies in Michigan. There he met Ray Kaiser, who would be his second wife, getting married in 1941.
The Eames couple: Art to change the world
The couple began to work together in 1940, in the exhibition of Organic Design of Home Furnishings, at the MoMA, in a collaborative production flow where both tried to exploit their creative capacities to the full. Soon his office became a multicultural and diversified space, where they were not looking for a theoretical professionalism, but for experience: “Learning by doing”, was the motto of the store, as Ray used to call the office.
While Ray was interested in the design of the textile world, Charles seemed to be involved in the design of home furnishings, although both projects were always strongly influenced by the whole. This is how, according to some sources, they gave rise to modern furniture. Playing with plywood and increasingly venturing into more and more transgressive materials and techniques, Eames furniture sought the comfort, pleasure and rest of the inhabitant.
Their architectural work is not particularly extensive, although it is worth noting that each of the houses and projects have become a reference of the professional ethics of a couple that was crowned as a craft laboratory, always alive and in constant reinvention.
In addition, his interest lent itself to games, cinema, exhibition spaces, photography… The Eames were looking for a global art, always related to function, and transgressing the limits by purifying their pieces. The studio remained on this crest of the wave until Charles’ death in 1978, after which Ray devoted himself to finishing unfinished lab projects, such as translations of some of his games.
Ten years later, on the same August 21, the wife of the Eames died, putting an end to the evolutionary process that led us to understand housing as we do today.