The sphere of architecture and design is one of those 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
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)
- Handwritten notes for talks at the University of California, Los Angeles, January 1949
- First published in An Eames Anthology 2015, Yale University Press