The Journal

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The World of Charles and Ray Eames
Charles and Ray Eames

The World of Charles and Ray Eames


At the core of design lies the possibility for analytical thought that can challenge the norm. Through design we can become open to living differently. For ultimately design is an approach, an intention to solve a problem, a way of thinking that goes beyond the design of an object, a process which applies to the quality of life in general.

It’s a philosophy renowned architectural design duo Charles and Ray Eames lived by. We say lived by because to them design was not about business, it was a way of living. An approach they applied to every element of their daily lives. To them, there was no boundary between work and life.

Driven by philosophical ideas that valued knowledge, exploration, experimentation and applied practice, Ray and Charles believed that all problems big and complex, or those smaller ones like in daily life, can be treated in the same manner:

First – define the problem. Second – gather data. Third – create the solution. Fourthly – gain feedback.

At the Barbican, Londoners can experience the exhibition that journeys through the lives of the influential married duo, beginning with their early molded plywood inventions and extending into their creation of the infamous Eames Lounge Chair, photography, films and architectural home designs.

Esteemed and distinctive, the Designers strike us as inspiring not simply for the physical manifestations they created but for this approach we speak of. This holistic, all encompassing view of design. When asked by the Government of India for recommendations on a programme of training in design that would serve as an aid to small industries, the Eames prepared a document entitled The India Report. Their introduction to the report opened with a Sanskrit poem by Bhagavad Gita –

“You have the right to work, but for work’s sake only: you have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working…”.

For Ray and Charles Eames the process was everything.

How mindful it is to view life in a determined mannerexcited to venture into the new in order to learn from the outcome. Far from complacent, this perspective can allow us to extend beyond any expectations and into realms we didn’t know possible.

Something striking we drew upon whilst viewing the exhibition was Ray and Charles’ extraction of various stimuli to help build their stories. We’ve spoke about it before on The Journal, Einstein called it ‘combinatory play’, that cross-pollination of various stimuli essential to productive thought. The duo regularly combined various visuals within their films to tell a story and deliver their message, things seemingly unconnected to the unsuspecting eye until closer inspection.

Take the film, The Power of Ten for example.

Beginning at a picnic scene, we see a couple lounging on a blanket on a sunny day. Before we know it we’ve taken off on a journey zooming out from this scene to the power of 10. The camera reaches its furthest vector, at 1025 or 100 million light years away and before us is a scene of galaxies. We are so far removed that they almost resemble dust. The narrator asks us to  “notice the alternation between great activity and relativity inactivity, a rhythm that will continue all the way into our next goal: a proton in the nucleus of a carbon atom beneath the skin on the hand of a sleeping man at the picnic.” And before we know it we are zooming back and beyond that original opening scene into the minutest detail, deep within that hand and its many atoms. In the final microscopic stages of the film, we approach that carbon nucleus, the narrator tells us, “We are in the domain of universal modules. There are protons and neutrons in every nucleus, electrons in every atom, atoms bonded into every molecule out to the farthest galaxy.” This film is not about the expanse of things per say, but more so the universal sameness of things. An idea that left us thinking about Ray and Charles’s belief that the same design approach can be applied to every problem.

When asked “What is your definition of ‘Design’? by Madame Amic for the exhibition Qu’est ce que le Design? (Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 1972), Charles Eames responded “One could describe Design as a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.”

To the enquiry “What do you feel is the primary condition for the practice of Design and for its propagation?” Charles replied “A recognition of need”.

Food for thought, for not only designers but all of us as humans, because design thinking is not an approach that can only be practiced exclusively by designers, but a mode of being which allows us all to reflect and create solutions in our everyday lives; solutions born out of ‘need’.

Deeply contemplative, Charles and Ray’s devotion to design left us reflecting on our own beliefs and processes of (re)visioning. We highly recommend The World of Charles and Ray Eames exhibition still available to view in London at The Barbican until 14 February before moving to Sweden and Portugal.

Written by Stacey Cotter Manière and Kristin Agnes

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