The work of Ray and Charles Eames has been written about and exalted ever since their office on 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice, California began manufacturing products back in 1943. Over the next three and a half decades, the Eameses went on to accomplish great things in the fields of advertising, branding, film, textile design, industrial design, and of course, furniture design. What many may not realize, is that the Eameses were also pushing the envelope of modern architecture. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ray Eames’ birth (December 15th), we take a closer look at what was one of the first pre-fab homes of the modern era, Case Study House #8.
The innovative design of the Eames home and studio began in 1945 when Arts & Architecture magazine launched the ambitious Case Study House Program, commissioning progressive-thinking architects of the day to experiment with cost-effective and efficient methods of home construction amidst the post-war housing boom. The idea was to explore new ways of using wartime industrial technology to build affordable homes for the multitude of veterans returning home en masse. When Ray and Charles first visited the Pacific Palisades site there was an instant connection, and according to Ray, “hocked everything we had to get it.”
Set in a Eucalyptus tree-lined meadow 150 feet above the Pacific Ocean and overlooking Santa Monica Beach, the property was an ideal place for both work and play for the Eameses. A serendipitous delay in the construction materials allowed them to spend more time at the property, resulting in a change to the original plan. Ray and Charles reconfigured the materials into the home and studio we see today, preserving the Eucalyptus trees and the surrounding nature that truly defines the property.
Most the materials were prefabricated and shipped to the site where a construction crew of eight men assembled the 11 tons of factory steel and glass in just over a day-and-a-half. The overall cost was approximately $1 per square foot (or about $10 per square foot today – $1.50 less than the average home price in 1949!). They accomplished this remarkably low cost by using relatively inexpensive, prefabricated materials, and compartmentalizing the design in order to simplify construction. Ray explained in Eames Demetrios’ book An Eames Primer, “It was the idea of using materials in a different way, materials that could be bought from a catalog. So that there was a continuation of the idea of mass production, so that people would not have to build stick by stick, but with material that comes ready-made-off-the-shelf in that sense.”
When I toured the property earlier this year, I was taken aback by how simple the design is and how unobtrusive and beautiful the buildings are on the site. This was a place where imagination and ingenuity came together to create a new design philosophy. The idea of prefabricated, mass-produced materials may not have been a new one, but Case Study House # 8 certainly began a new way of thinking resourcefully, and continues to be a source of inspiration for architects and builders today.