The Eames Case Study House #8, usually known simply as Eames’ House, is usually presented as a kind of kaleidoscope of details. It remains one of the most exuberantly performative homes in the history of architecture, with its resident designers, Charles and Ray Eames, as the chief actors. They enacted the day-to-day as an ongoing celebration, documenting the daily rituals of work, play, and hospitality with photography and film. What this theatre of life conceals is that the Eames’ house was itself, structurally, a kind of theatre. Examining the house as an interactive Archilogic 3D model holds, for this reason, some revelations even for those for whom the house looks as familiar as an old friend.
The standard interpretation of Eames’ House has been through its host of humanizing detail. The classic film, “House: after five years of living,” made by the Eameses in 1955, is a film montage that focuses on flowers, sea shells, artworks, fabrics—natural objects and craft artifacts that emphasize organic materials, textures, and traces of individual use. In contrast to the perception that pre- fabricated structures were somehow “cold”—mass produced emergency housing suitable to the exigencies of World War II—the film is “warm”: intimate, domestic, tactile. The emphasis on improvisation and immediacy is underscored by a chromatic jazz soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein.
Eames’ film was so successful in setting the tone for the interpretation of the house that it still dominates readings today. Everything about the film conceals the structure, and focuses on the circulating collection of tchotchkes and keepsakes, flashes of detail rather than spatial relations. Perhaps even more significant is the way that the Eames’ exploit the paradoxical capacity of still photography to capture transience. As well as textures, they sought out shadows, the temporary play of light through leaves, and reflections on polished glass. What the film with its charms leaves strangely obscure is the pure structure of the Eames’ house itself.
For this reason, being able to fly through a pared back version of Eames’ house in virtual reality comes as something of a shock. In fact, the interior structure of the house resembles the SLR camera that the Eameses’ wielded more than the photos that they took of it.
Stripped of its detail, the house reveals itself as rational structure. Javier Berzal de Dios* recently described how early renaissance theaters were designed so that the audience would spend as much of their attention on their host as on the performers—there were essentially two stages, one being for the actors, and the other being the box seat of the patron. The apparato of the Eames house is similar. There’s the two double-height spaces in which work and living is performed, and these can be read as theatrical stages. They’re compellingly photogenic, and viewable from almost every angle. More surprisingly, the mezzanines of the misnamed "storage" space in the studio and the bedroom in the living quarters also functioned as theatrical spaces, floating above the main stage. Both are box seats over the celebration of daily life, although the bedroom is more exclusive, thanks to the discrete half-helix of the spiral staircase that leads into it, in contrast to the very public stairs trotting up to the mezzanine in the studio. Even the alternating clear and brightly colored opaque panels tempt the visitor into a state of continual voyeurism.
But who, then, was this theatre for? Well, the guests of the architect. As Charles Eames said, “the role of the architect, or the designer, is that of a very good host, all of whose energies go into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests.”† Conversely, when acting as a host, Eames was also acting as a designer. Part of producing persuasive architecture was the performance of architecture for guests. In the Eames house, the living space mirrors the studio, the kitchen acting as a doppelgänger of the darkroom. Both are spaces of living as a performative kind of work, where experiences are prepared in order that they might be simultaneously remembered and recorded, ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼ consumed and shared, treasured and distributed, private and public. Eames house was structurally modern, but it was conceptually ahead of its time.
The theatrical quality is emphasized by the fact that the building was often used as a set for fashion shoots by magazines such as Life and Vogue. There’s even a short film celebrating the house by Ice Cube.
The Eames weren’t the only ones to realize that the house of the architect had to be a theatre for architecture. Philip Johnson’s “The Glass House” certainly had the same effect. There, as at Eames’ House, the architecture alternated between the role of sculptural object, floating in the landscape, and frame for the view of the landscape itself. Privacy was a third concern, and one that trailed so badly that Johnson ultimately moved from the house in order to live in the guest house—the constant sense of exhibitionism imposed by the glass walls had begun to rattle his nerves.
Likewise, Breuer’s “bi-nuclear” system was evolved in order that a domestic house could have a double system of circulation, one that was entirely private (a series of small bedrooms and bathrooms) and one that was semi-public (kitchen and dining rooms). The Eames house sits both chronologically and structurally as a successful middle term between Breuer and Johnson. The two spaces (private and guest) are separated by a courtyard, as opposed to being completely structurally separated (as in the case of the opposition between Johnson’s glasshouse and guesthouse).
Using a model developed by Michael Peguero, at Archilogic we’ve developed an entirely new visual reading of the Eames house that inverts the way it can be read. By moving from photography to 3D animation, you can see Eames’ house in a whole new light.
Start the tour above, or via this link. The animation will guide you through different aspects of the building and will finally leave you to furnish your Eames House.
- In the lower left corner of the screen, the levels icon will let you choose between the two levels.
- The camera icon will repeat the animation.
- The floorplan, dollhouse and person icon change the viewing mode.
- The black menu bar on the right provides most importantly the account, interior and sharing menu.
* Javier Berzal de Dios, “The Question of the Apparato: Plurality and Enclosure in Renaissance Theatrical Environments” (delivered at College Art Association, New York, Wednesday February 11, 2015)
† Digby Diehl, “Charles Eames: Q & A”, Los Angeles Times West Magazine, 8 October 1972, p14