Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen
Charles Ormond Eames, Jr.
Born 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri
Studied Architecture and Industrial Design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan
Born 1910 in Kirkkonummi, Finland
Studied Art at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Sculpture at Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, France and Architecture at Yale
The collaborative work between two of the most important, influential and best-known protagonists of mid-century modern design can be attributed to their mutual interest and work in design education. A chance meeting at the Cranbrook Academy of Art resulted in a partnership that experimented with new furniture forms and produced the first designs for furniture made from moulded plywood.
Charles Eames, born 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri, studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis and opened his own office together with Charles M. Gray in 1930. In 1935 he founded another architectural firm with Robert T. Walsh. After receiving a fellowship in 1938 from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, he moved to Michigan and assumed a teaching position in the design department the following year. In 1940 Eames became head of the department of industrial design at Cranbrook.
Working with his wife, Ray Eames, they emphasized function in their designs; believing “what works good is better than what looks good because what works good lasts.” The husband and wife team were one of the defining creators of the last century.
Eero Saarinen, born in 1910 in Kirkkonummi, Finland, as the son of the architect Eliel Saarinen, studied sculpture in 1929 and 1930 at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris before studying architecture at Yale University in New Haven until 1934. A Yale fellowship enabled him to travel to Europe. In 1936, he returned to the USA and worked in his father’s architectural practice and also taught at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills.
Saarinem’s work has been described as symbolic of the space age. Along with architectural achievements like the St. Louis Gateway Arch, he is particularly famous for his pedestal collection of ‘Tulip’ chairs and tables. Aiming to rid the dining experience of the disruptive “slum of legs”, the Tulip chairs were designed to appear as a single piece of curvaceous fiberglass.
The collaboration between these two designers came to be whilst working as lecturers at Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 1940, Eames and Saarnien submitted designs for the legendary Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition, launched by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This design competition has of gone down in history as the first time the chair design work of Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames was presented to a wider public.
The pair entered several designs they had created together and were awarded first prizes in two categories. One was in the category ‘Seating for a living room,’ for which they had submitted six designs, the Conversation Chair among them.
The jury, consisting of prominent design exponents such as Marcel Breuer and Alvar Aalto, acknowledged the technical innovation of the designs. For the first time, Eames and Saarinen proposed using three-dimensionally moulded plywood shells for their chairs that would provide a large degree of comfort through their ergonomic form alone, without the need for elaborate upholstery.
When Charles and Ray Eames moved to California the close collaboration with Saarinen came to an end as well. It was the Eames’ who continued research on three-dimensional moulding of plywood on their own, achieving ground-breaking success after the end of the war.
The Organic Chair’s serial production, meanwhile, only began in 2004, based on one of the few original models from 1941.
Each individually successful and impactful in the field of design, the brief collaboration between Eames and Saarinen resulted in innovative and powerful creations that are still much sought after today.
- Conversation chair
- Organic Chair
- Organic Chair sheepskin
- Organic conference chair
- Organic Highback chair
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