charles eames portrait photograph advice students ArchEyes
Charles Eames Advice for Students

Architecture and design are rare disciplines that seamlessly blend art and science, theory and application, and tradition and innovation. The wisdom imparted by great minds in the field often transcends their era, offering insights that are perennially relevant. One such luminary is Charles Eames, an iconic designer whose philosophy continues to resonate across the years.

While Eames was primarily known for his groundbreaking furniture designs, his thoughts were far-reaching, delving into the realm of pedagogy and the shaping of a complete designer. In a series of handwritten notes for his talks at the University of California, Los Angeles, in January 1949—later compiled and published in “An Eames Anthology” by Yale University Press in 2015—Eames provides a comprehensive guide for students and even seasoned architects.

This article delves into his tenets that address how a holistic approach to learning and designing can transform one’s work into art, reflecting an attitude rather than just a skill.

Charles Eames: Advice for Students1-2

Make a list of books

Develop a curiosity

Look at things as though, for the first time

Think of things in relation to each other

Always think of the next larger thing

Avoid the “pat” answer—the formula

Avoid the preconceived idea

Study well objects made past recent and ancient but never without the technological and social conditions responsible

Prepare yourself to search out the true need—physical, psychological

Prepare yourself to intelligently fill that need

The art is not something you apply to your work

The art is the way you do your work, a result of your attitude toward it

Design is a full-time job

It is the way you look at politics, funny papers, listen to music, raise children

Art is not a thing in a vacuum—

No personal signature

Economy of material

Avoid the contrived

Apprentice system and why it is impractical for them

No office wants to add another prima donna to its staff

No office is looking for a great creative genius

No office—or at least very few—can train employees from scratch

There is always a need for anyone that can do a simple job thoroughly

There are things you can do to prepare yourself—to be desirable

orderly work habits

ability to bring any job to a conclusion

drawing feasibility


a presentation that “reads” well

willingness to do outside work and study on a problem . . .

Primitive spear is not the work of an individual nor is a good tool or utensil.

To be a good designer, you must be a good engineer in every sense: curious, and inquisitive.

I am interested in this course because I have great faith in the engineer, but to those who are serious

(avoid putting on art hat) Boulder Dam (Hoover Dam) all’s great not due to engineer

By the nature of his problems the engineer has high percentage of known factors relatively little left to intuition

(the chemical engineer asking if he should call in Sulphur)


The beauty of Charles Eames’ advice lies in its timeless relevance and holistic approach. He doesn’t separate the act of designing from the complexities of human needs or societal frameworks. Rather, he illustrates that art is a byproduct of one’s attitude towards work and life, not merely an aesthetic layer applied to a finished product.

Eames challenges students to go beyond the ordinary, to be more than just an ‘employee’, and to transform into thinkers, learners, and ultimately, visionary architects and designers. By promoting the qualities of curiosity, thoroughness, and a multi-disciplinary approach, Eames’ principles serve as a golden roadmap for anyone in the architectural field, from budding students to seasoned practitioners.

As we continue to grapple with the evolving challenges and possibilities in architecture and design, revisiting the wisdom of Charles Eames offers a grounding perspective, reminding us that the art of architecture is, at its core, a reflection of our approach to work and, by extension, to life itself.

  1. Handwritten notes for talks at the University of California, Los Angeles, January 1949
  2. First published in An Eames Anthology 2015, Yale University Press