“… Where the Eames House, however, differs from its nearest predecessors, the steel-framed buildings of Soriano , and also its possible successors, the house of Koenig, Craig Ellwood and others in the Los Angeles area, is that its composition is wholly additive, with frame and cladding not separated, but working together, and that it possesses wit, a quality extremely rare in Architecture, its wit is, of course, largely the result of the seemingly casual juxtaposition of different elements.”
The Eames’ self-conscious deployment of “off the peg” components frames the objects of their everyday life, in a way that collapses the polarities of high and low. The Eames House at once aspires towards the architectonic (materials are used “honestly,” their functional roles are articulated), while simultaneously privileging the decidedly everyday (“a riotous collection of folk art and antique collectibles”), illuminating “the discursive sites where ideology and fantasy conjoin.” The abstract rendition of architectonic concerns (the Miesian exploitation of its steel frame, the application of the DeStijl color palette to its shear panels), frames the contributions of the Eames as homeowners as discrete from their efforts as architects.
The Silverlake house currently under renovation by filmmaker Scott King (Shotgun Freeway) limns possibilities for the production of space (as posited by Giedion) apart from the architectonic concerns depicted by the Eames House. Its exterior elevations have been restored to their pre-war state, the existing parti respected. Formal operations, ascribed in the Eames House to geometric composition and structural expression, are taken up by the “the decidedly everyday” contributions of decoration. Architectural aims are imported into this two-story Colonial entirely through surface elaboration and furnishing.
In the spring of 1950, 30,000 people showed up for the first day of selling homes in “Tomorrow’s City Today,” Lakewood, California (future home of the Spur Posse). 20,000 would show up on weekends throughout the spring. That first week, 36 salesmen, working day and evening shifts, would close deals on 611 houses. “What was being offered in Tomorrow’s City, as in most subdivisions of the period, was a raw lot and the promise of a house. No down payment, and 30 years of monthly payments ranging from forty-three to fifty-four dollars (elevated them) to “ownership of a piece of the future.”
This same seamless confluence, “veiled (a) Rooseveltian idealism” that “promised to deliver a world free from old domestic stereotypes… built in rows on 10,000 streets: bedrooms, bath, living room, dining room, breakfast nook, kitchen, service porch, garage.” This ideology, as manifested in the Case Study Houses (the Eames House), would consider “new approaches to construction techniques”, and new materials developed in wartime would be used.” The designers and the program’s sponsor, Arts and Architecture, shared an ambition to see their houses replicated in thousands of American towns as a testament to their imaginative vision.”
The Eames House, like the tract homes built in rows on 10,000 streets, “tomorrow’s city today,” conjoins comfort, the pleasure of the eye, and the homeowner’s identity, to the “seamless confluence” of the Second World War, the Korean War, the G.I. Bill, and the defense contracts that began to flood Southern California as the Cold War set in.
Subway Tiles in the Bathroom
The use of tiles deployed on an urban scale in New York to surface an intimate space for personal maintenance (the main bathroom upstairs), displays wit reminiscent of the Eames house in its casual juxtapositions of scale, and serve to externalize a main theme of the house, that of institutional purpose. These tiles differentiate the bathroom from the rest of the house, and turn the private acts of personal hygiene into public function.
A Masonic Kitchen
Wall, ceiling and refrigerator in the kitchen have been surfaced with tin panels, each stamped with the Masonic symbol. This profusion of mysterious and ritualistic signs conflate reference to various urban mythologies and films centering on obsession and control – “crazy people” on everyone’s childhood block who covered the windows with aluminum foil, the priest from The Omen pasting the walls with pages from the Bible in order to keep the devil out – and reference the decorative choices of bars though the nineteenth century. Present, too, is a feeling of pseudoscience – cover the walls with metal and center one’s spirituality – that harkens back to the Reich boxes of the fifties. The kitchen becomes a mystical Faraday Cage, a static yet electric machine devoted to focusing the secret powers of the ages into the owner’s legendary barbecue sauce, created on the stove therein.
A House that Breathes
Pneumatic tubes run from the kitchen to the attic and to every bedroom, enabling a generation ago’s version of instantaneous communication, and act as arteries for the lifeblood of the residence. Perhaps the tubes weren’t good enough for Paris, where they were shut down ten years ago, but they’re good enough for Midwestern farmer’s banks and the King Residence. Rather than Bertrand’s surrealist love note or Mr. Walton’s weekly subsidy deposit, however, these tubes carry much more precious cargo – grilled cheese sandwiches, cigarettes, and Lagavulin.
A Mysterious Mantelpiece
In a manner reminiscent of the designers of Disneyland’s Toad Hall, the owner commissioned a mantelpiece, carved with representations of a few of his favorite things. No racing jalopies here, instead one finds electrical towers, zeppelins, idealized Art Deco cityscapes, and mysterious chemical laboratories that bring to mind mad scientist Bela Lugosi vehicles of the thirties.