Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Point of view: "The Atlantic" on Charles and Ray

The Vision of Charles and Ray Eames: how two designers from the 20th century influenced and predicted the way people would live in the 21st.

by Sophie Gilbert

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In a 1972 short film titled “Design Q&A,” Charles Eames offered answers to a series of questions about design, a field in which he and his wife, Ray, had envisioned everything from medical splints and airport seating to low-cost housing and children’s toys. “What is your definition of design, Monsieur Eames?” asked the interviewer, Madame L’Amic. “One could describe design as a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose,” Charles replied. They continued:

MADAME L’AMIC: What are the boundaries of design?
CHARLES EAMES: What are the boundaries of problems?

This Eamesian understanding of design as a solution rather than a luxury—as something that’s about industry as much as art—encapsulates the unique philosophy and vast influence of Charles and Ray Eames, a husband-and-wife team whose lightness of touch and Californian joie de vivre infuses contemporary offices and homes. Would Ikea be the same without the Eameses? Would Apple? Their work is best remembered via the molded-plywood and leather lounge chair that bears the Eames name, but their vision of design as something that could get “the best to the greatest number of people for the least” lives on in less tangible ways. The Eameses, above all else, helped democratize the genre.
But it’s impossible not to sense the Eamesian influence in low-cost, flat-packed furniture sold at Ikea, or Crate and Barrel, or Target. The way-it-should-be-ness of their chairs so infuses modern design that their own works have inspired countless contemporary imitators—something Charles himself might have appreciated. “To be realistic,” Charles Eames once said, “one must always admit the influence of those who have gone before.”
Much of their impact is harder to trace: The designer Dieter Rams, whose work for Braun is unmistakably felt in the work of Apple’s chief designer, Jonathan Ive, has credited them as an influence, and certainly Apple’s synergy of form and function, lightness of spirit, and commitment to process borrows heavily from the Eamesian model. Their belief that everyday objects can both define and provide meaning makes them one of the most enduring creative forces of the 20th century. They predicted the future even if they couldn’t describe it. “What is the future of design?” Madame L’Amic asked Charles Eames at the end of their Q&A. His response: a montage of images featuring fruit, plants, and flowers, as if to point at how the encapsulation of function and beauty has really been all around us, all along.