The Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity inspires future generations to design a better world – COOL HUNTING®

In the 1960s, Ray and Charles Eames undertook a project for the National Aquarium for which they installed 20 salt water tanks in their office. According to Llisa Demetrios, chief curator of the Eames Institute and granddaughter of Ray and Charles Eames, the plan exemplifies the brilliant thought processes of the iconic duo and subsequently inspired the designers to approach their work in a more sustainable way. On the one hand, the delicate maintenance of the fish informed the duo of the seriousness of the pollution which can harm the animals and the environment. On the other hand, the experience led them to end a film proposal and replace it with a booklet to communicate their experience. By relaying anecdotes like these, which draw the curtain on the methodology of Ray and Charles, the Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity aims to inspire younger generations in design, whether for furniture, green initiatives, politics or the world at large.

The nonprofit Eames Institute was launched in April, with the help of Demetrios, President and CEO John Cary, and Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia to share lessons from Ray and Charles Eames. Evolving from the duo’s personal collection and small private visits to their workplace in Venice, the Institute is currently presenting three digital exhibitions of a wide range of ephemera and prototypes with a future lineup of workshops and exhibitions. live events in preparation.

“As chief curator, I hope that when people come to see the collection or see it online, they can understand some of the lessons we can learn from Ray and Charles about problem solving,” says Demetrios, who underlines the molded plywood chair for example. “When they first designed the molded plywood chair, they thought it had to have three legs, because three legs sit very well on the floor. But there’s a problem: People don’t know how to get out of a three-legged chair without falling. So they said, “We can’t teach people to sit, we have to work with how they sit” – that’s a valuable lesson. Another valuable lesson was the shape they wanted to make, they couldn’t make in molded plywood. There’s an honest use of materials in there.

Understanding the client and working within the constraints of the context are valuable lessons in design as well as in life. In fact, the bulk of Ray and Charles’ ideologies often confuse the two, making the exhibits all the more emotional. Demetrios explains: “It’s a question of design with a lowercase ‘d’. Remember that design is about responding to need. The trick, however, is: are you meeting the real need? For me, the gift of learning how Ray Charles did it is knowing how they really get back to what is needed.

Throughout the exhibits, the nonprofit focuses on five key lessons (although there are countless others): awareness or the act of seeing, context, and the act to tell how something fits into something bigger or smaller, problem finding, problem solving and the action of finding the solution.

Currently, the nonprofit is presenting three exhibits that showcase what the design team has done and what they have collected from around the world. The first exhibition, Before they were the Eames, lists the parallel lives lived by the partners before coming together with formative photographs and works of each. The second exhibition, Plywood during the war, focuses on how the two men applied their problem-solving ingenuity to aid the war effort. The last exhibition Form follows wording, discovers the origins of the Eames Shell Chair, along with some of the countless iterations and permutations it has entailed.

Demetrios hopes the Institute will not only be an inspiration to those just beginning their journey, but that these problem-solving lessons will be applied to larger issues around the world. She says, “I think some of the challenges today are as crippling as the challenges of World War II or the Depression. So for me, this is how to get out of this paralysis and really start addressing the challenges and the needs today. I hope people stop thinking of things in isolation, they think in terms of systems and how we are all connected.

As designers who have dedicated themselves to the lifelong quest for learning and education, Ray and Charles are the ultimate source of inspiration and motivation for younger generations. They “always encouraged more found learning, less teaching. So whether someone comes here and I lead a tour – and I can’t wait for us to do that in a bigger space – or whether they’re online, I want them to be able to start connecting and see things and be independent,” adds the curator. “They didn’t believe in the gifted few, they believed in you just getting good at what you love to do.”

For creatives who are stuck, uninspired or simply curious, the Eames Institute is a haven for moments of eureka, encouragement and optimism that empower others to design a better world.

Images courtesy of the Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity

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