Week of July 10, 2009

TED Talk: The design genius of Charles + Ray Eames by Eames Demetrios

  • Paul C

    I too like the revised schedule. It affords more time for discussion and thought. Having the discussion continue into the weekend was nice too.

    With respect to the evolutionary/unfolding approach to design, I agree that time spent designing within the actual space can result in a better end product, however the realist in me would caution that the “market” if you will, is unfortunately not typically setup in that matter. Finding a “good” contractor who is open to working through the details as the home is under construction can potentially add to the costs involved. Like cc builders, a lot of contractors are built for speed. Don’t take me wrong, I am not suggesting this shouldn’t be the approach sought, I am only suggesting that for those who do, they should be aware of the potential implications. As you said in your report, “…within our own practice we’ve been trying to do (this approach) for many years” , what has been your experience?

    Alternatively, with the visualization capabilities of the software available these days, much more concept refinement/evolution can occur prior to construction then what was possible only a few years ago. It will never replace however, actually experiencing the space.

    This is a link to a brief 2005 NPR interview with Alexander for those interested.


    Have a nice weekend.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the link to the NPR interview. It should be a good introduction for those viewers who are not familiar with his work.

    I agree with your statement about the “built for speed” model of typical contractors. In fact, I would take it further and say that this model is unavoidable if costs are to be kept even somewhat in line and affordable.

    Although our firm (housebrand) has incorporated construction management into our architectural practice, I don’t think that this is the only way to achieve the kind of iterative process that Alexander suggests. In my experience just having the contractor involved as a “consultant” during the design process and then having the architect or designer really engaged in a meaningful way during construction works well. This later step is really dependent on the mindset of the contractor and the client. The norm in residential construction is for the drawings to be “just a suggestion” that the contractor uses, as they see fit, to actually make the house. I think that fixing just this one issue would go a long way to realistically getting closer to Alexander’s goal.

  • Paul C

    Thanks for comments. I agree that residential drawings these days have taken on a somewhat unfortunate status. Too much in line with the philosophy of speed. One of my pet peeves is the over used phrase “..it’s easy to make it work on paper”, frankly it’s an insult. The best definition I have found for architect is “master builder”. Drawings should be a representation of the definition.

  • Brad W


    Thanks for sharing the TED talk on Charles and Ray Eames. Their range of accomplishment and insight makes an impression.

  • John Brown

    I agree. If you think of the drawings as a re- presentation of the idea, then the design becomes a more fluid thing that can react to changes, contingencies, opportunities. This much more useful than the more common definition of the design drawing as a static thing that is issued and then quickly becomes irrelevant.

    Fortunately, digital technologies are helping out with this – but I also agree that the age old master builder ideal still works.

  • John Brown

    I am glad you enjoyed the clip. I think that Charles and Ray Eames have a lot to offer right now. In some ways it is too bad that their mid century modern furniture has become so stylish and chic. I think that this can undermine their much more significant messages. As you quite rightly say, it is both their accomplishments AND their insights that we can learn from.

  • Grace

    I enjoyed the clip and support the idea of design as a life skill. Aesthetic considerations humanize us, our environment, and our relations with others.

  • John Brown

    Well said.

    Too often, however, “aesthetic consideration” is misinterpreted as “style” and design is reduced to marketing. Like other mid century modernists, the Eames’ believed in a much more holistic idea of design.

    As Charles said in the video ” The extent to which you have a design style is the extent to which you have not solved the problem”.

    It is ironic that their furniture has come to embody the “style of modernism” in popular culture.

  • Jim Argeropoulos

    I listened to the Alexander interview. It was interesting from a few points.
    First: I do software for a living and our community has picked up the “pattern” idea and tweaked it some. Our version is rumored to be not all that true to Alexander’s ideas.
    Second: His discussion of repeating windows made me think of something I read recently by Malcolm Wells
    “Keyhole views, like gold and silver, are valued because of their limited supply. There’s a window at Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater House that must not be more than a foot or a foot and ahalf square, and yet it is the most memorable window in that partly glass house becaue the master arranged his spaces in such a way that the visitor is lead to that window and made to appreciate the stunning view it frames.”
    I come to this site to learn about what it takes to make such choices, to see the mistakes in the least expensive form, ones others have made, to see the successes illustrated for me, to hear what the foundational good principles are, and to enjoy the discussion about what people appreciate.
    Thanks to all of you, I learn more each week.