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Eames Office Celebrates 80 Years with Exhibition in Japan

To commemorate its eight decades of success, Eames Office is mounting 80 Years of Design, which celebrates the history of the company and the life and work of Charles and Ray Eames.

By Rachel Gallaher

A black-and-white photo of Charles and Ray Eames laying on the sidewalk under a bunch of chair bases. He wears slack and a checkered shirt. She wears a black shirt and a checkered shirt.

Charles and Ray pinned by DCM chair bases on the sidewalk outside of the Eames Office shortly after a Herman Miller advertisement photo shoot, 1947. '80 Years of Design,' an exhibition dedicated to the lives, work, and legacy of the designers opens this week in Japan. Courtesy of Eames Office.

In June of 1941, newlyweds Charles and Ray Eames—who had met while both at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan—moved to Los Angeles ready to start their next chapter in life. Full of energy and optimism for the future of art and design, and their places in the rapidly evolving industry, the Eameses immediately dove into work, using the spare bedroom in their apartment to experiment with molding modern, engineered plywood (a fairly new material at the time) into furniture. As World War II progressed, the couple started to manufacture leg splints and aircraft parts for the war effort. It was an auspicious beginning that captured the Eames Office’s penchant for experimentation with form and materials, and the practice of making the best thing for the most people at the lowest price. The Eames Office, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, would go on to introduce some of the most important pieces of furniture in the design lexicon, become synonymous with the midcentury style, and lead the Eames name to become among the most recognized in the field of design and architecture.

To mark these achievements, as well as the legacy left behind after Charles and Ray passed, Eames Office is presenting the exhibition 80 Years of Design at The Space, a modern and contemporary design gallery in Tokyo’s Isetan department store. Running from November 5 through January 5, 2022, the pop-in will offer a holistic look at the history of Eames Office, the human-centered philosophies that drove Charles and Ray’s work, and the vast global cultural influence the company has had over the past 80 years.

A white-walled and white-floored exhibition space with products designed by Charles and Ray Eames on display throughout the room.

The '80 Years of Design' exhibition, which runs through January 5, 2022, shows the range of work produced by Charles and Ray Eames, from the leg splints they designed during World War II to their namesake molded-plastic chairs. Image by Ko Tsuchiya.

“Charles and Ray have a very international audience, so we’re always excited to be invited by international institutions to share the Eames story,” says Eames Demetrios, director of the Eames Office and grandson to the late Eameses. “Isetan was interested in the 80th anniversary and the combination of Charles and Ray’s work with our work to preserve and extend the legacy. Beyond our relationship with Isetan, Japan was very important to Charles and Ray. Not only did they have many close friends who lived there, but there was a real simpatico between the Eameses and respect for tradition while also being interested in modernity. Modern design at its best requires tapping into universal ideas, which had a lot to do with the process by which they created. The respect of that combination is an inherent connection that they found.”

A room inside an architectural model designed by Charles and Ray Eames. Small chairs and furniture along with a multi-colored, multi-tiered shelf sit in the room. The ceiling is vaulted like a barrel.

A look inside the brand-new architectural model of the unrealized 1951 Modular House. Courtesy of Eames Office.

The exhibition will comprise three sections: a look at influential experimentations in art and technology, the Eames’ groundbreaking innovations in architecture and interiors (the Eames is a landmark of mid-20th-century modern design), and the joy and wonder brought to people of all ages through designs that encourage one to play and learn. Guided by the idea that the role of a designer is that of a good host, anticipating the needs of the guest, Charles and Ray looked to the post-war desires of the American public (and the types of environments they wanted to live in) and created high-quality, modern furniture that met the needs of a typical household while also pushing aesthetic boundaries to allow for the democratization of good, capital-D Design.

In addition to the history, images, sketches, and models, the famous 1943 molded-plywood sculpture (created during the couple’s initial experimentation with the material) will be on display. The company is offering a reedition of the sculpture in a limited run of 12 pieces. “This project was a touchstone of Charles and Ray’s relationship and their design process,” says Demetrios, “and I would argue, a pivot for 20th-century design overall.”

A black-and-white upholstered Eames rocker sits in front of a wall with a timeline on it. The timeline is out of focus.

A shot from inside the '80 Years of Design' exhibition. Image by Ko Tsuchiya.

A never-before-seen architectural model of the unrealized 1951 Modular House—designed by Charles and Ray as a structure that could be simply prefabricated and relatively quickly assembled—will be making its public debut. Special edition products from long-standing Eames Office partners (Herman Miller and Vitra), and other companies such as Ravensburger, Art of Play, Reebok, and Globe (a Eucalyptus skateboard deck is the results of the Eames Foundation’s 250-year arbor conservation plan to protect the Eames House: the boards have been crafted from a single eucalyptus tree that stood near the home’s studio but posed a threat to the structure), help continue the legacy of the Eameses in a contemporary context.

A black-and-white archival shot of a molded-plywood Eames sculpture.

The 1943 molded-plywood sculpture designed by Charles and Ray Eames will be on display at the '80 Years of Design' exhibition. Courtesy of Eames Office.

After Charles and Ray’s deaths (in 1978 and 1988 respectively), the next generations of the Eames family were trusted with overseeing this legacy and the continuation of their predecessors’ designs.

“[Charles and Ray] realized that for authenticity to survive, there needs to be someone advocating for the design,” Demetrios says. “As we started this endeavor, we saw the beauty of the ideas as well as the objects and began trying to bring more of them out into the world. The office today is still centered around their work, while also bringing it into new realms and communities. We’ll continue to do so as long as it continues to be meaningful for the larger community and so far, the partnerships we’ve made have been deep and wonderful. Over the next 80 years, we believe that the core values of Charles and Ray (and therefore the core values of the Eames Office) will be more important than ever and the solutions they devised will be valid as long as human beings are constructed in this way.”

An exterior window display done in blue for the Eames exhibition. Eames wooden animals (birds, whittles, elephant) stand in front of a graphic blue background.

Window display at the Isetan department store advertising the Eames exhibition. Image by Suzuki Shimpei.


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