Together US designers and architects Charles and Ray Eames had a knack for imagining how people would live in the future, and then build it. From their famous Case Study house in California, part of a project that steered the course of modernism in the US, so the now-classic designs such as the famous Eames lounge chair, they shaped the 20th century.
One of the key innovations that kicked off their careers was moulded plywood. Charles had dabbled in moulded plywood design before WW2, collaborating with Scandi genius Eero Saarinen, and even winning a design competition, but the real turning point came when he and Ray were commissioned to make splints and stretchers for the US Navy in the war. The equipment needed to be light, strong and stackable, and it was imperative that it could be mass produced. Charles and Ray used the moulded plywood they’d been experimenting with, harnessing its ability to be curved in multiple directions so they could shape their designs around the human leg and arm in the case of the splints, and shaped organically to support the lower back in the case of the stretchers. They even designed a plywood pilot’s seat for a fighter plane.
The experience they gained, learning about comfort, organic form, and perhaps most importantly, being able to scale designs for mass production, was the key to the success of their postwar designs, which put them on the map, and saw their designs being taken up by the likes of Herman Miller and Vitra.
The technique of using moulded plywood to create compound curves was eventually used in what is probably their most famous design – the Eames Lounge Chair. Their wartime experience also helped shape their ideas – especially that of using new technology, materials and manufacturing techniques to make good design accessible to everyone.