Ray and Charles Eames
My daughter and I had a debate this morning on the telephone. The previous night, I had sent her an interview of Charles and Ray Eames done by Arlene Francis for the Arlene Francis Home Show in 1956.
See video below Ray Eames shows up 1:38 minutes into a 4.25 minute video.
I went off how the video was the epitome of sexism in American society of the 1950’s. That there was something patronizing and pejorative by calling her the “interesting and able woman behind the man.” Eames looks to the floor, seemingly embarrassed. And Arlene Francis doesn’t seem to know how to balance the interview; at times completely ignoring Ray and then diverting attention back to her.
My daughter, on the other hand, did not find the interview sexist. She was fascinated that Ray had been invited on the show with her husband and that Arlene had directed questions at her. She even noted Charles deferred to Ray in some instances.
The difference for us is context. She loves history and I am an architect. She’s looking at historical context but I am looking at the reflection of the field of architecture. They were one of the first woman man /husband and woman/wife architecture firm! They helped champion the wife and husband team of true collaborators! She deserved more respect.
Decades later, Ray is still categorized as an “assistant” or “apprentice” (despite her background in art). The comment section of articles and interviews of Eames are typically sexist, intimidated by her influence and importance. The beauty of the Eames is that it was a true collaboration. A collaboration that changed the world of design, the world of furniture, of objects, of graphics and of architecture. To me, the Eames represent a very modern construct: they wanted to create a seamless life where what you do, how you do it and where you do it are all fully integrated. This philosophy was reflected in their lives.
This ideal, of the seamless life of work and personal, is one that lives on today: Billie Tsien Todd Williams, Diller Scofidio, and of course the infamous couple of Denise Scott Brown and Bob Venturi where Scott Brown is often forgotten by the press and the awards juries.
And in a profession where we often parade the sole single “male” practitioner as the creative force that single handedly conquers, the wife/husband team speak to the true nature of the creative process in architecture. It is one that is messy, pluralistic, heteregenous and truly collaborative. If there is the single important lesson that we can see from these teams it is that the sum of the parts is better and stronger than whole. Or, as Charles Eames said
Anything I can do, she can do better.”