By Pablo López, Senior Architect at AGi architects, PhD Architecture at Polytechnic University of Madrid.
This post is a follow up on “The chair as an anticipatory architectural element (II): a condensed image of Modernity”
In the immediate post-Second-World-War the architects had little work to do in an America that did not need to be rebuilt as Europe, but which nevertheless had suffered the hard emotional and economic impact of the war. Therefore it was common for architects to seek out other sources of employment; Charles and Ray Eames along with John Entenza founded in 1941 his own plywood products company. They would turn everything learned making prostheses and splints for the war wounded, which would replace the old metallic ones that produced gangrene in many cases. Just as Jean Prouvé would take advantage of the technical advances in aviation industry and De la Sota would dive the underworld of industrial construction, the Eameses rescue the advanced technology of warlike industry to redirect it to everyday life.
Therefore most models of Eames chairs from the RAR Plastic Chair, DAW or DAR models would bet on that geometry result of empirical molded body posture, collected by the technique invented by Sun Fingerhut at the end of the decade of the 40 of high pressure molded fiberglass, natural evolution of its double-curved plywood that already had tested. This new technique allowed a better reproduction on an industrial scale. In a single object converges two fundamental premises of the work of the Eameses: on the one hand, objects -including architectonic ones- as catalysts of life and on the other hand, the technique that formalizes that purpose.
But if there is an Eameses’ piece which is paradigmatic in this regard is the famous design of La Chaise that in 1948 they developed for the MOMA contest in New York. Although formal and cultural reference was to create a chair that would serve as accommodation for the “Floating Figure” sculpture by Gaston Lachaise, its conceptual reference is to be a kind of enveloping of human posture, a large ergonomic enabler, a container for positions.
But on the scale of furniture that same concept has a very different morphological correlate. We understand that the man, to feel comfortable and free in his posture, he needs a support that suits him. Otherwise, when the chair takes its geometry from a preformulated design -see Rietveld- or has fallen prey of constructive limitations that constrain it, the user comfort is imposed above its function. Hence the cornerstone of the Eames design is the emptying of a body subject in multiple ways.
Sampling as an architectural technique
A sampler is an electronic musical instrument similar in some respects to a synthesizer but, instead of generating sounds, uses recordings (or samples) of sounds that are loaded or recorded on it by the user to be played using a keyboard. The music produced with it is performed gathering outside pieces which arranged in a certain way give rise to a composition.
Although the Eameses learned about the sampler we can recognize its songwriting in each other, as a proper operation of pragmatic architecture. This technique does not create new types, does not work lexically, but it gives a new meaning to known types, it operates syntactically.
Almost all Eames furniture production parts from this operation. The pieces, on the one hand the back and the seat unified in a single one, and on the other hand the structure, are either interchangeable so they create an open system whose ultimate expression is the RAW model, evolution that takes the body model RAR and adds an oscillating support by way of rocking chair. The parts of each model are as interchangeable prosthesis in the operating table. Bodies and paws can be combined without altering the design, as part of the same strategy open to the user. The priority is to provide empirical comfort -not intellectual comfort as Mies- and thus the final formalization of the design is indifferent. True reflection of this was their own house, subject of multiple extensions that, however, did not alter an apex the essence of the project.
From this perspective we can recognize how De la Sota uses the sampling on a massive scale when we look at the explanatory sketch of the design process of the Civil Government of Tarragona project where he combines known types to gather in the whole the right doses of housing block, institutional nature monumentality, etc., expected in a building of character.
As resulting from the value of the system over the object the construction process will take a radical importance. On videos that the Eameses made on furniture such as “the fiberglass chair”, the pieces are not explained by using logical or plastic deduction, as if it were a sculpture or an art installation, but through the industrial process that is implicit in. In a definite scalar transposition the Eameses explain identically their home: they talk about a device made from prefabricated components available on the market and which are assembled from the trailer of a truck in just 36 hours..
“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.“