A few years ago I visited the Eames Foundation and its iconic Eames House. Located in Pacific Palisades, California, hidden away among tropical growth and trees, it overlooks the nearby beach and Pacific Coast Highway 1 literally a stone's throw away.
I first read about this home as part of my history studies in Graduate School where I studied for a professional degree in Architecture. I learned then the Eames House was part of the Post War Case Study Houses project by John Entenza and others which helped introduce innovations in emerging building technologies while popularizing Modernism, specifically California Modernism.
A HIDDEN GEM
After years of mysteriously staying off of my radar when visiting family in Pacific Palisades I remembered on a recent visit it was in the area and sought to learn more. Ironically I learned I could literally walk to it from my Aunt and Uncle's nearby residence. Perhaps chance and circumstance kept me away all of these years, but this time I made sure to visit with one of my son's.
I won't go into a detailed history of the building and its occupants. Instead I share here a deep appreciation of the integration of the home into its site, its exterior beauty and innovative technological charms seeking an idealized vision of mid-century era modern design. The home is designed as two volumes with the main living area sharing a japanese inspired outdoor terrace with a design and arts studio and a nearby smaller garage.
THE VISITOR EXPERIENCE
Its linear layout of two skinny boxes, rests on open yard almost flat on the south tucked deftly into a steep hillside filled with trees and ample shade and shadows. Its siting defines the concept of "nestled-in" while providing a generously scaled open area with terrific ocean views. However, looking up from the PCH you would never see the house hidden in the trees.
Walking down the hard to find driveway tucked into other driveways and alleys, you walk into the house site echoing the arrival of a car. You walk past the garage on a path which leads along the southern face of the interconnected buildings, first seeing the Studio, the shared terrace and then the home. The same path circles around doubling back higher on the upper slope side of the home providing wonderful views into the upper portions of the house and views across the site towards the ocean.
JAPANESE AESTHETICS & INDUSTRIAL PROCESSES
The Eames truly admired traditional Japanese architecture which blends linear forms and careful integration of indoor and outdoor spaces, with framed views, translucent interior screens and windows Shoji screen-like. They transformed their admiration of this vocabulary through the novel use of the industrial. Steel columns, joists and beams as well as metal siding are painstakingly elegant and proportioned. They adapted industrial manufacturing and building technologies in novels ways in the design of their home, its building systems, interior details and furniture, modern art, collected objects into a total work of art.
A term I learned in graduate school history and theory classes which defined this (Thanks Ned Collier and Taisto Makela), Gesamtkunstwerk, emerged from the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century and then into the ideals of the Bauhaus from Germany. Like these early movements and their expanded concept of design practice, their home in Pacific Palisades is truly a remarkable achievement integrating the landscape, building, interior design of spaces, furnishings and the Arts.
Their home acted as both a residence and a design studio as Charles and Ray Eames, as the Eames Office, worked on famous exhibition designs, films, commercials, books, furniture (then bentwood products for Herman Miller) (A favorite exhibition of mine they designed can still be experienced in the Museum of Science in Boston, Mathematica. It's startling contemporary and vital today in all of its analog glory. If you appreciate exhibition design, math and storytelling go to this exhibit.) As their practice grew they eventually relocated the Eames Office to nearby Santa Monica.
The close attention they paid to site planning, of fitting their home into the side of a hill, paying heed to the sun and daylight alongside their novel approach to innovating with new metal building and window technologies, the power of the interiors, and merging of their art and object collection with the architecture reinforce and build on one another. You really feel the indoor to outdoors California living when visiting this special place where building and landscape come together.
A CONTINUING INSPIRATION
It makes me wonder if Charles and Ray Eames lived today, and were starting building a new home on a side of hill in Pacific Palisades what new and emerging technologies would they seek to harness in its construction? Where would they turn to stylistically today? The Eames House stands as a much quoted icon of Modern Architecture forming a primary DNA strand still being copied, hacked and expanded today. I have to wonder how their penchant for inventive innovation and integrative thinking would inform projects today?
This inquisitive and restless spirit of innovation inspires me today in my work, in my focus on integrated design of place and space, building, their systems, and land,. Does the Eames House inspire you? Or do you have a special house or building of your own and a story to tell? Please share!
Meanwhile, remember hidden gems like the Eames House lie underfoot in everyday life. Let your curiosity and sense of wonder lead you to extraordinary experiences. I'm grateful I finally found the Eames House and could experience it in person after all of these years of distanced admiration. I made the historical personal and it truly inspired me.
HOW TO VISIT THE EAMES HOUSE
Visiting Los Angeles and want to schedule a tour? Click on this how to visit link to learn more.
(Note, I wish I could share the photos I took of the building but alas when touring you learn photos taken there can't be used for publication.)