Architects in the Hands of an Angry God: Charles and Ray Eames on Things

By Todd CronanMay 25, 2016

Architects in the Hands of an Angry God: Charles and Ray Eames on Things

An Eames Anthology by Daniel Ostroff

The Christo Experience, or a good birthday cake. There is a great value in how the thing disappears and can’t be reproduced; it can’t deteriorate and grow passé.

— Charles Eames


CHARLES AND RAY EAMES'S breakthrough film of 1953, A Communications Primer, explains the process of information transmission in the “age of communication.” The film begins with a diagram that visualizes “almost any communication process” based on a threefold schematic of source — transmitter — destination. As the narrator explains, the clear relay of message to receiver is threatened at almost every turn by noise. “Noise,” says the narrator “is the term used in the communications field to designate any outside force which acts on the transmitted signal to vary it from the original.” Depending on the message, almost anything can act as noise: sound, motion, the “unpredictable quality” of light sources, and static on a TV monitor.

It’s more a film about noise, about what gets in the way of communication, than transmission. Maintaining the strength of an original idea through extreme levels of interference was, for the Eameses, the key to the problem of mass production. As Ray said of mass-produced furniture, the aim all along — she is writing in 1975 — was to “figure out a way that the hundredth, and the five hundredth, and the thousandth [product] would have the original character.” In the Primer as in their furniture, maintaining the purity of the work’s “original character” — especially as it arrives in the hands of its users — was a guiding concern. Ray recorded the following note by Charles to this effect: “When the concept is formed it represents about 5 percent of the design effort — the remaining 95 percent of the effort being used to keep the concept from falling apart.” If the signal, the idea, could remain at full strength as it passed through a sea of noise, it was either a really crude idea or a beautiful one.


The narrator of the Primer elaborates how even the simplest technologies are swamped by noise:

In a typewritten message, the noise source could be in the quality of the ribbon or the keys, and we are all familiar with the carbon copies that keep getting progressively worse. If anything acts on the signal so as to bury it in an unpredictable and undesirable way in the communications system, it is noise.

The film shows layers of carbon-copied text as it quickly devolves into a blurry smudge. From the typewriter we move to the telegraph on the New York Stock Exchange, as a stockbroker sends a message to an agent in Los Angeles. Here, there are only two possible messages to be conveyed: BUY or SELL. The clarity of terms suggests a kind of ideal situation. And yet, even here electromagnetism “could distort the signal in such a way as to change SELL into SELF.” How does the stock market neutralize this threat? Given that there are only “two possible messages, BUY and SELL, there is sufficient redundancy in the spelling of the words that even if it did read SELF, the information would still be clear.” That much noise could not disrupt the clarity of the primitive message.

In a sense nothing could be closer to the heart of the Eames’ project than this vision of noise abatement through redundancy. Then again, what makes the exchange of stocks anything but a work of art is its capacity to nullify noise, to make noise fully redundant. For the Eameses, it is essential that their message become intimate with noise. The difference between art and commerce is that answers to an artwork are “not given in terms of a ‘sure thing.’”

The lesson of the Primer is not to work with minimum conditions of communication but with maximum ones. Writing about the Primer to Ian McCallum at The Architectural Review, Charles reflects that “If ever an art was based on the handling and relating of an impossible number of factors, this art is architecture.” The supremacy of architecture — and the Eameses always called what they did architecture, no matter what media — was its capacity to handle a seemingly “impossible” amount of noise. Exchanging stocks was one thing; accurately predicting the market and its futures was the real challenge. On the one hand, the architect is tasked with the “responsibility of calculating and predicting all factors of a problem that can be calculated and predicted.” On the other hand, there is no level of calculation that will free the designer of new levels of responsibility. Tasked with “anticipating relationships […] yet to be conceived” the designer is on the hook for any effects that could be generated by their products. New scientific research was exposing ever deeper layers of responsibility for the designer, and Charles was by turns anxious and intrigued that each year “brings discoveries of new human architectural needs we have never suspected.”

As soon as Charles raised the issue of the architect’s responsibility to calculate everything, he reflected how this reality foreclosed the capacity to build anything or at least anything morally justified. It’s “safe to say that in any architectural problem very few of the factors involved have been calculable — relationships of factors are almost impossible to calculate — and most of the factors remain unknown.” Real architecture (versus models, furniture, and exhibitions) is buried in noise. The aim of the Primer was to provide a tool to include “more factors” for clear communication and “make calculable the possible results of relationships between combinations of factors” that had never been conceived before. Looking back we might say the Primer was designed to exonerate the Eameses from making architecture beyond what they already built (that is, two houses and a showroom). The Primer purposefully multiplied design responsibilities into infinity. The more factors brought into the field of design by the tool, the more “responsibility […] to use such a tool.” The final lines of the narration clarify the sheer density of decision-making provoked by the tool:

The communication of the total message contains the responsibility of innumerable decisions made again and again, always checking with the total concept through a constant feedback system […] and though the tool may perform complex tasks, it will never relieve the man of his responsibility, no matter where it occurs, no matter what the technique. Communication means the responsibility of decision, all the way down the line.

Here we can see the true aim of the Primer and of the Eames aesthetic more generally. New media for the Eameses was not designed to solve complex problems but by multiplying the density of problems to heighten awareness of levels of responsibility. By all accounts the “level of […] responsibility” their tools could generate made it almost impossible for them or anyone to use it successfully in practice. However attractive they thought the Primer might be for others in its capacity to visualize patterns of predictability, the Eameses were reticent to build anything lasting beyond their furniture trade.

Charles’s 1952 American Institute of Architects speech concludes with a long discourse on noise. He describes the basic change in communication engineering from the old method of trying to “calculate [unpredictable turbulence] on the basis of the predictable turbulence,” to the new one where they “decided not only to calculate the unpredictable, but to calculate it as an element.” This new tendency to “calculate the uncalcuable” is architecturally significant because — and this gets to the heart of the matter — the “amount of information received in the presence of noise is actually […] greater than the amount of information received in the presence of less noise.” More noise, more information; more dimensions of unpredictability courted, the higher the aesthetic returns.

Charles explored the depths of noise and its abatement in a 1949 design talk where he launches into an exhaustive list of requirements for making even the most humble objects. Here, his example is a chair. He points to function, height, tactility (to avoid catching a garment), surface materials, bodily comportment (while eating and when you lean back), surface motion (back and forth), the relation of the “object to the other parts of the room, to the psychological effects of the color.” He discusses the importance of the object in the room and its impact on the “conception of space” in the room. “We must consider etc., etc., etc.” The chair is swamped in the density of responsibilities. For Charles, the quality of a design hinged on the capacity of the designer to imagine possible uses and effects and in anticipating all those effects in the shape of the product. Or to eliminate possible effects by making the design function in very particular ways (you can’t stand very well on most Eames chairs).

The same “etc., etc., etc.” logic runs through a 1951 talk at the University of Colorado Boulder. Sure enough, we hear how there are “an infinite number of factors not yet measured” in every design problem. But it’s not your ability to measure that counts, rather it is the “degree to which the ultimate performance standards go beyond the solving of the measureable factors may show the degree to which the artist has functioned.” The artist is a kind of diviner of the mysteries of the calculable. His example now is a cup. The “combinations and relations” of a cup to its user are “infinitely complex.” He lists liquid volume, balance (lifted, tilted, on a surface), “fluid dynamics,” scale, production techniques, resistance to moisture, corrosion, impact, heat transfer, and on and on and on. Presumably it was meant to exhaust the listener, and it certainly functions that way with the reader.

If further evidence were needed of what it looked like for the Eameses to calculate “factor after factor” for the most modest objects, see the list of 20 questions reproduced in their “India Report” of 1958. That Charles singles out the lota — a kind of portable bidet — as “perhaps the greatest, the most beautiful” of “all the objects” they saw during their roughly six months in India is directly to the point.[1] While the “number of combinations of factors to be considered” in the making of lota is — you guessed it — “astronomical” — some of the noise has been reduced through hundreds of years of streamlining production. It almost didn’t matter to the Eameses whether they were designing a lota or plotting an airport or an aquarium because everything, no matter size or scale, was swamped in noise and in the responsibility for reducing it.

The lesson of the extraordinary Eames Anthology, at 400 pages full to the brim with creative and novel selections by Daniel Ostroff, is the Eames’ genius for imagining degrees of design interference and degrees of responsibility that had never been conceived either before or after. One is struck, while reading the Anthology, at the sheer depth of their moral commitments. Charles’s 1953 lecture course at UC Berkeley takes as its first topic “Entropy and Morality.” Entropy is the scientific term for the noise explored in the Primer. The principle of entropy in communication, he skeptically records, “indicates that the probability that a message will increase in accuracy by transmission is zero.” Information “can only be dissipated.” The morality in question is the response to this entropic situation. Rather than confront the inevitable “spreading” of entropy, the tendency is to separate the world into fictive abstractions of good and bad. Embracing entropy means relativizing moral terms: “Decaying flesh would not seem bad to a vulture.” To begin to think in this expanded moral sense would mean taking responsibility not for a vulture’s perspective but for the manifoldness of human needs (there’s not a shred of post-humanism or object-oriented anything here). This is what Charles means when in his 1961 report to the US State Department he speaks of the “consideration of the other person’s point of view and the effect of the decision on his values.” His point is to insist that the designer build into his work an awareness of the “long range effects” of one’s works on its users.

“Entropy and morality” emerges as the theme of a short sales film for a sofa designed in 1954. There’s a straightforward modernist morality to everything the Eameses did. The technique should always “show through the result,” there should never be any mystery to how something is made. But the Eames’ vision goes well beyond the show-your-work attitude. This is furniture in the Hands of an Angry God: every decision matters as a moral act. Everything counts and what counts is vastly more than anyone could imagine. Film demands a kind of infinite attentiveness of decision as it represents “the extension of the responsibility of each individual at every level of activity.”[2] Every frame bears import: the filmmaker is “really transmitting meaning and all the tricks, and every joke, every color; every tear is sort of pertinent to the meaning.” The opening narration of S73: Compact Sofa states that: “More and more the problems of shipping come to be considered as a part of the manufacturer’s responsibility.” Which means that shipping “automatically becomes the designer’s problem.” Problems, responsibilities multiply, and no sofa is safe from newly excavated layers of responsibility that require attention. So while their mantra was “take your pleasures seriously” — and the Eameses seem to supply an inordinate amount of “joy” for anemic audiences seeking a way out of boring-old-boxy-modernism — their prime example of serious pleasure was the circus, where the “rigors of the discipline” were the source of the pleasure for the performer.


If the designer could fully grasp and resolve the basic needs inherent in a piece of furniture — and that is a massive if — then the work could drift through noise without any loss of sense. Writing of the storage units, Charles reflected how the “combination of standard elements can be made to serve an infinite number of uses” without altering its basic idea. Get the idea straight and the work can enter any number of contexts without altering its meaning: “a chair that works very well in one dining room, it usually will work in other situations.” Writing of the Immaculate Heart campus in 1967, Charles noted that the building could be “scotch taped, nailed into, thumb tacked”; the structure itself could handle “complete changes in program” because the idea of the structure was separable from its physical instantiation. From toys, to sofas, to lotas, to cabinets, to an airport, an aquarium, a religious campus — it is all one giant interrelated problem. As Charles noted in passing during a lecture, if his talk has “meant anything” it should be clear that design is part of a “chain reaction mechanism that can start anywhere and go everywhere, and is commonly related to every problem.” The quality of a design is its capacity to come to terms with that casually unified whole, to recognize connections where there used to be none. This is what Charles meant when he described their famous house as a “great web” — the open web beams literalize the image — that both “supports and encloses” the environment.


Julius Shulman, Eames House, 1950. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

And yet guilt followed the Eameses wherever they went. “If I feel guilty about chickening out of architecture,” Charles told Esther McCoy in 1974, “Eero [Saarinen] was guilty about not giving architecture the careful detailing I could give Furniture.”[3] That Charles felt guilty for giving up architecture is clear; he was still talking about it 25 years later. Over and over again he was asked by interviewers why he didn’t make more buildings after two houses and a showroom. His answer was always the same and highly revealing. To McCoy, he said “in architecture the idea degenerated” while furniture was “a more direct and pleasurable route.” McCoy aptly noted that the idea couldn’t “degenerate” at the Eames house because he was “his own client,” by not entering circulation, it could secure itself against misuse.[4] Even so, the continuous stage-managing of the interior space — the now ubiquitously eulogized “good Victorian clutter,” as Robert Venturi called it — indicates the continuous desire to maintain the clarity of the idea over time.

To deflect some of the guilt, Charles pointed to the significance that furniture held among modern architectural masters.

For an architect who has difficulty controlling a building because of the contractor and the various forces brought to bear on anything that costs that much money, a chair is almost handleable on a human scale, and so you find great architects turning to chairs: Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Eero Saarinen — any number of them doing it, because this is architecture you can get your hands on.

The moral is barely concealed: the “various forces brought to bear” on a building — the noises that potentially distort the message — should have made architecture more impossible. And if Charles’s language here is relatively free of moral sentiment, his more typical formulation reveals a different tone:

Furniture, and especially chairs, interest me because it is a piece of architecture on the human scale […] [T]hat is partially the result of my chickening out. Practicing architecture is a super-frustrating business. You work on an idea, but then standing between you and the event itself are many, many traps to dilute it. The finance committee, the contractor, the subcontractor, the engineer, the facilities guys, the political situation — all of them can really degenerate the concept. Going into furniture or film is a deviation of a sort, but at least we have a more direct relationship with the end product — better chance to keep the concept from degenerating. […] That’s why architects design furniture — so you can design a piece of architecture that you can hold in your hand.

Traps around every corner; at least with furniture (or your own house), you can be responsible for the product. “It’s frustrating to do buildings,” Charles noted, “and in furniture […] it’s at least at a scale [architects] can control.” Yes, control is an unadulterated good for the Eameses; it curbs the tide of degeneration.

Degeneration and deviation, deterioration and diminishment, distortion and dilution, dissipation and decay, these “d-words” (along with noise, entropy, and erosion) are the core concepts of the Eames’ moral and aesthetic enterprise.[5] All of these words were summed up for the Eameses with the word “discontinuity,” which, along with its opposite “continuity,” are their poles of moral and aesthetic valuation. Continuity was a way of describing a work’s special connection to its makers, a connection Charles often described as “not too far removed from the architect’s own hand.” Early on, Charles reflected how centuries of building in Germany produced “no disunity” between structures — “music, literature, architecture and philosophy were unified” — because they all shared an “attitude” toward life. There was, in the Eames’ way of putting it, a high degree of “continuity” between art and life in Germany in the baroque era (the same held for the age of Franklin and Jefferson). Lack of a clear attitude is the source and expression of “discontinuity,” and combating that was their basic moral and aesthetic mission.

The original “Bridge” plan for the Eames house — it remained in play for five years — “suspended [the house] over the land, existing in a free and independent relationship to its natural environment” exemplifies their vision of a structure that would not degenerate in circulation.[6] They continually stressed the fact that the house would be “independent of the ground, a point in space looking directly at the mass of the sea.” It was here, the suspended point in space where the free “development and preparation of ideas” could occur. Ideas generate ideas. When the house was presented by John Entenza in the pages of Arts & Architecture in 1949 (the house was featured in no less than seven of the 12 issues that year), he made its ideational status explicit:

This house presents an attempt to state an idea rather than a fixed architectural pattern, and it is as an attitude toward living that we wish to present it […] Here it is only important to say, and briefly, that we feel that the house must be judged on the basis of its appropriateness to the idea, and that its contributions to things to be derived from it rather than things existing precisely within it.[7]

So it is not an idea but an “attempt” at one. And the idea it aims to express is itself ideational, an “attitude” toward living. This is presumably what Esther McCoy meant when she inimitably described the house as “the framework of a structure of an idea.”[8] According to Entenza, it is the idea and the “things derived” from it that matter, and not the “things existing” in it. Charles made a similar point in his notes to the Mathematics exhibition, where he lauded those artists and thinkers who have “no thought or concern for how [models] may be applied.” Of course the Eameses thought endlessly about how a model might be applied, which is the reason why they quit making buildings. The alternative — furniture, film, exhibition design — were means by which to produce “architecture” that might transmit an idea without degeneration.

It’s hard to imagine a stronger retort to the contemporary reception of the Eameses than the Eames’ moral and aesthetic ruminations of the difference between idea and thing.[9] In his remarkable commentary on Case Study House No. 9 for Arts & Architecture he described how the house progressed “from idea […] to reality […] with a sure sense of concept.” The sure sense of concept meant that when the house was built it “lacked utterly that sense of stunned surprise that very often confronts those who see their handiwork complete and real for the first time.” While this idea may stop readers short, it is not a fluke. It was the lack of surprise that he valued.[10] The lack of surprise was the result of a “consistency of idea and purpose which created and carried the whole to completion.” It is, Charles concluded, the “statement of an attitude.” Every “great original thinker” is defined by their ideas, rather than “things existing”; it is the “form of an attitude” that makes them great, rather than the object that gets produced.

Wherever beauty was found, for the Eameses it was assumed to be the action of a great intelligence. In a talk given at an arboretum — another treasure unearthed by the Anthology — Charles asks his listeners to look closely at driftwood and see how its form is the “result of elements working with a consistent attitude on a given material.” How it is that waves bear an “attitude” toward wood is left entirely undeveloped, but it is fully characteristic of Charles’s way of thinking. It is in fact the theme of their great early film Blacktop of 1952 (with accompaniment from the German baroque!). With enough resolve, one can begin to see the density of decision that goes into anything that compels one’s interest. In the same talk, Charles observes that if you “consistently […] throw enough paper in a fireplace […] the consistency of that attitude will show up and it doesn’t become a bad thing.” Intent is everywhere, if you have the resolve to respond to it. A bad thing — chance — can become a good thing, if you can discover the order in it.

When Charles writes to Peter Blake after a few months living at the house, he points to the “surprises” that “came one by one” as some of the “most pleasant things” about living there. The “unplanned” aspects of the house he celebrates are the changing light and shadows as they play across the architectural form. Reflections! Those can’t be controlled! But it is the form that generates the play of light and shade, the form is confirmed by it, not altered. If something was “accidental,” Charles says, he and Ray went about studying it “for a long time.” Light is “of course accidental.” He finally assures his audience — who continue to ignore him — that “The object, however, was not accidental.”

The longer one reads in the Anthology the stronger the feeling one is being introduced to their work for the first time. One can read everything written on the subject — much of it fetishistically centered on media and information and lifestyle and the Eames’ putative fascination with things — and never encounter the fact that the Eameses thought centrally about morality. This becomes clearer as their work progresses and the dominant theme of the Eames’ later writings is the problem of restraints. To find restraint in a world defined by choice is the path to reestablishing continuity; it is the “horrible freedom” of choice that is the cause of our discontinuity. (Los Angeles is identified with a “you name it — and you can have it” attitude; it is gluttony incarnate.) Restraint is the primary weapon in the battle “against discontinuity.” At one point, Charles jokes that using a “spineless material” — like plastilene and airbrush — by anyone under 50 should be “punishable by death.”

Indeed there is a strong existential tone to the later writings. “Man is totally unprepared for the role of free choicemaker,” Charles declares. The modern American is “forced to make many decisions” without the least “restraining effects” of a “common cultural tradition.” Charles clearly longs for the imaginary age when there “was never a real free choice involved” in art and where tradition steered one’s least gesture. This aspect of their project seems a touching relic of the so-called “Great Compression,” the period between World War II and the later 1960s, where the problem seemed a pathological lack of restraint in the culture, rather than what it is now, massive exploitation of workers by the superrich; restraint, for the majority of our impoverished population, is not a message that deserves retelling.

Morality takes on an almost hectoring tone in later writings. In his 1965 Graphex speech in London, he laments how “as a race […] we have never been up against the problem of making a free choice […] and we are just plain not prepared to make them.” How this sermonizing went down with the Team 10/Independent Group fan base is unclear. That Los Angeles could mean anything other than a way out of uptight Mies/heroic modernism was an unwelcome reminder.

If the ’60s is dominated by ideas of restraint and choice, then the ’70s is defined by a new idea about what the Eameses call the “new covetables.” The new covetable is defined by “concepts, ideas” that persist through change “with no degeneration.” They are perfect commodities, ones that persist through any use. Information, for instance, is described as “a commodity that isn’t diminished by being shared with others.” This is of course the basic thought of all the Eames’ work. And not surprisingly this free commodity is proclaimed in moral, even religious terms, “the product divides like the fishes and loaves.” In Ray’s words, information is a pure commodity because “once you have it, it works like the loaves and fishes: you can distribute it without diminishing it.”

In her memorial tribute to Ray Eames, Esther McCoy reflected on Ray’s “love of packages — packages beautifully wrapped.”[11] The love went so far as to exclude the desire of opening gifts because they would lose something essential about their character, their potentiality, in being used. If the object couldn’t perform like a “birthday cake” or a picnic — used up in its entirety and entered into memory — then it was better not to be used at all. For Ray, it seems, it was better if “the package was never opened. It went to the back room to gather dust.” Better to gather dust than be dust. This is in fact the theme of the greatest of all Eames performances, a slide show called Goods from 1971 (and later made into a film by Ray). Charles presented it — 33 images moving simultaneously on three screens — during his term as Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard.


Charles begins the slide talk by describing how Ray’s car was recently broken into. Her car invited this violation because it was always full of “beautifully wrapped” things. But it’s not the break-in that’s the sign of degeneration, it’s that “the guy hadn’t thought enough to take” a “great bolt of cloth” lying in the back seat. Charles touchingly describes a sequence of goods — a bolt of cloth, hank of rope, reel of line, a ball of twine, a keg of nails, reams of paper, boxes of chalk, and a cord of wood — and reflects on the difference between “what you do with” it versus how it is “in itself.” “What you do with a ream of paper can never quite come up to what the paper offers in itself.” Once you take out that “first sheet [of paper] that sort of changes it.” Remove a log from the cord and it would “start to tumble and before you knew it, the cord of wood was gone.” Unlike a birthday cake or a picnic, paper, chalk, and wood would continue their lives in the world, and the “in itself” of the thing would inevitably degenerate. Better leave the present wrapped, the ream stacked, the wood corded; or, try your best to calculate the path taken by goods into the world. Anything else must quicken the pace of degeneration.


Todd Cronan is associate professor of Art History at Emory University. His most recent book is Against Affective Formalism: Matisse, Bergson, Modernism (2014).


[1] Eames admirers describe the lota as a ritual object, while critics suggest its “hygienic function” “elude[d] the American couple.” The latter point is made by Anthony Acciavatti, “Towards a Communication-Oriented Society: The Eames’ India Report,” in The World of Charles and Ray Eames, ed. Catherine Ince with Lotte Johnson (New York: Rizzoli, 2016), 245. Neither position seems correct. That the Eameses had full awareness of the item’s function speaks to their larger sense of the responsibilities that go with the production of even the most mundane articles.

[2] Charles Eames, “Converging Forces on Design as Viewed by a Designer,” Journal of Architectural Education 12:1 (Fall 1956): 11. I am reminded here of Michael Fried’s account of Jackson Pollock (a contemporary of the Eameses). Fried writes of the “existential demand” of Pollock’s “allover” surfaces, surfaces that are saturated with “experiential density,” where (citing Clement Greenberg) “every square inch of the canvas receives a maximum of charge at the cost of minimum physical means” (“Optical Allusions,” Artforum [April 1999]: 97-101, 143, 146). Of course Pollock and the Eameses inhabit different aesthetic universes, but I see an analogy in the starkness of their shared commitment to responsibility over every aspect of the work, a kind of “allover” ethics of the product. The gap between the two worlds can of course be crossed by Hans Hofmann who played a decisive role in Ray Eames’ thinking.

[3] Esther McCoy, “Charles and Ray Eames” (1975), in Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader, ed. Susan Morgan (Valencia, CA: East of Borneo, 2012), 183.

[4] McCoy, “On Attaining a Certain Age [Eames House]” (1977), in Piecing Together Los Angeles, ed. Morgan, 300.

[5] The stated aim of the “India Report” was to set up a school that would “resist the rapid deterioration of consumer goods” within contemporary Indian culture. It’s unclear how significant the setting was for this claim as it was identical with the claims made by the Eameses about American consumer goods. The Eameses insist on the autonomy of the newly proposed design school in order to “protect the objective from dilution and the method from deterioration.” The charged language of purity and dilution makes clear the proximity to the role the lota plays in the culture.

[6] McCoy suggests the final plan, the one that was actually produced, was “redesigned […] at the last minute,” after the steel had been delivered to the site (Piecing Together Los Angeles, ed. Morgan, 306).

[7] John Entenza, “Case Study House for 1949 Designed by Charles Eames,” Arts & Architecture 66:12 (December 1949): 27. The text appears in all caps in the publication.

[8] McCoy, “An affection for objects,” Progressive Architecture (August 1973): 65.

[9] Consider Charles’s blunt affirmation: “The values are to be questioned, particularly those things having to do with physical stuff.” Physical stuff is discontinuous matter, devoid of meaning. It would not go too far to say that Charles seemed to conceive of things as part of a great chain of being.

[10] It is the kind of experience they hoped to provide their guests who visited their house or office. The role of the host was to “anticipate the needs of his guests” and, following that logic, with the house they designed for themselves, they could play host to themselves.

[11] McCoy, “A Love of Small Packages: A Friend Remembers Ray Eames” (1988), in Piecing Together Los Angeles, ed. Morgan, 306.

LARB Contributor

Todd Cronan is associate professor of Art History at Emory University. His most recent book is Against Affective Formalism: Matisse, Bergson, Modernism (2014).


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