1907-78)

The distinguished American designer, film-maker, and architect Charles Eames studied architecture at Washington University in St Louis in 1924. Having worked in private practice in the early 1930s, he won a fellowship in 1936 to study architecture and design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, which proved to be a highly significant experience. He headed the Cranbrook Academy's Experimental Design Department from 1937 to 1940 and formed friendships with Eero Saarinen (the son of Cranbrook's president, Eliel), Florence Knoll, and Ray Kaiser (Eames, Ray Kaiser) whom he married in 1941 and who became his close collaborator for the rest of his career. For some years he also worked closely with the architect and designer Eero Saarinen. The Eameses' work attracted attention at the Organic Design in Home Furnishing competition held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1940-1. Charles Eames, assisted by Ray and in collaboration with Saarinen, won two prizes, one for a moulded plywood chair and the other for modular design. The Eameses moved to California in 1941 and worked with Saarinen for the US Navy on a series of moulded plywood splints and stretchers that were instrumental in the development of their future furniture. In 1946 the Eameses produced their famous LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) moulded plywood chair, which was first manufactured by the Molded Plywood Division of the Evans Products Company (1946-9) and then the Herman Miller Furniture Co. (1949- 57). This and other designs were shown at a 1946 exhibition at MOMA entitled New Furniture Designed by Charles Eames (with no mention of Ray), establishing their—but critically and historically Charles's—reputation at home and overseas. A whole series of organically designed chairs followed from the late 1940s onwards, using new materials such as glass-reinforced plastic, and proved highly influential. A celebrated example was the 1948 DAR armchair, produced by the Herman Miller Furniture Co. from 1950 until the 1970s. The Eameses' modular work, first seen in the 1940 Organic Design competition, was seen subsequently in work such as the storage unit, model ESU 421-C of 1949 that established a type often found in homes and offices in the 1950s. The practicality of such a modular outlook was echoed in the design of the Eameses' home in Santa Monica (1947-9), sponsored by the Arts and Architecture magazine and attracting public and critical attention. Open-plan in layout, it was ordered from standardized, prefabricated parts and in 1978 received the American Institute of Architects' Twenty-five Year Award. Other celebrated Eameses furniture designs included the 1956 moulded rosewood and leather lounge chair and ottoman, to which for many years all senior managers in large-scale corporations aspired, and the 1962 Tandem metal-framed furniture for O'Hare Airport, Chicago, which set the standard for subsequent airport seating. The Eameses also produced many films, commencing in 1950, as well as multimedia presentations. The former included Mathematica (1961) for IBM, Powers of Ten (1968) for the Commission of the College of Physics, and commissions for the US government. Amongst the latter was a presentation on seven screens using 2,000 images in twelve minutes on Glimpses of the USA for the American National Pavilion at the Moscow World's Fair of 1959. Through their ceaseless experimentation in plywood, glass-reinforced plastics, and other materials and media, the Eameses came to rank amongst the most influential designers of the 20th century.