Eames House and the CSH program

The Eames House (also known as Case Study House No. 8) is a landmark of mid-20th century modern architecture located in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. It was designed and constructed in 1949 by husband-and-wife Charles and Ray Eames to serve as their home and studio.

It was one of roughly two dozen homes built as part of The Case Study House Program. Begun in the mid-1940s and continuing through the early 1960s, the program was spearheaded by John Entenza, the publisher of Arts & Architecture magazine. It was developed to address a looming issue: a housing crisis. Millions of soldiers would be returning from the battlefields of World War II, and were wanting to start families. John Entenza recognized that houses needed to be built quickly, inexpensively, yet without sacrificing good design. In a challenge to the architectural community, the magazine announced that it would be the client for a series of homes designed to express man’s life in the modern world. These homes were to be built and furnished using materials and techniques derived from the experiences of the Second World War. Each home was designed with a real or hypothetical client in mind, taking into consideration their particular housing needs.

Charles and Ray proposed that the home they designed would be for a married couple working in design and graphic arts, whose children were no longer living at home. They wanted a home that would make no demands for itself, and would serve as a background for, as Charles would say, “life in work” and with nature as a “shock absorber.”

Click here to see their design brief more clearly from the December 1945 issue of Arts & Architecture.

First Design: Bridge House (unbuilt)

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The first plan of the Eameses’ home, known as the Bridge House, was designed in 1945 by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. The design used pre-fabricated materials ordered from catalogues, a continuation of the idea of mass-production. The parts were ordered and the Bridge House design was published in the December 1945 issue of the magazine, but due to a war-driven shortage, the steel did not arrive until late 1948.

While they were waiting for delivery, Charles and Ray picnicked in the meadow with family and friends, flew kites and did archery.  By then, Charles and Ray had “fallen in love with the meadow,” in Ray’s words, and they realized that they wanted to avoid what many architects had done: destroy what they loved most about a site by building across it.


Second Design: Eames House

Charles and Ray then set themselves a new problem: How to build a house that would 1) not destroy the meadow and trees, and 2) “maximize volume from minimal materials”.  Using the same off-the-shelf parts, but notably ordering one extra steel beam, Charles and Ray re-configured the House. The new design integrated the House into the landscape, rather than imposing the House on it. These plans were published in the May 1949 issue of Arts & Architecture.  It is this design that was built and is seen today.

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Charles and Ray moved into the House on Christmas Eve, 1949, and lived there for the rest of their lives.  The interior, its objects and its collections remain very much the way they were in Charles and Ray’s lifetimes.  The house they created offered them a space where work, play, life, and nature co-existed.

While many icons of the modern movement are depicted as stark, barren spaces devoid of human use, photographs and motion pictures taken at the Eames house reveal a richly decorated, almost cluttered space full of folk art, thousands of books, shells, rocks, prisms, etc. The Eameses’ gracious live-work lifestyle continues to be an influential model.

The House has now become something of an iconographic structure visited by people from around the world.  The charm and appeal of the House is perhaps best explained in the words of the Case Study House Program founder, John Entenza, who felt that the Eames House “represented an attempt to state an idea rather than a fixed architectural pattern.”