Nov, 3, 2011,
12:04 PM

Eames: The Architect and the Painter

The Eames chair evokes the dynamism of The Jetsons cartoons and the bright comfort of robins’ eggs. It’s an icon of modern furniture. And it begins with a love story.

That story is told in the documentary, “Eames: The Architect and the Painter,” showing this weekend and November 13 at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago’s Loop (and narrated by the ubiquitous art-world random James Franco).

 Charles (1907-1978) and Ray (1912-1988) Eames met at Cranbrook Academy, where Ray helped Charles and Eero Saarinen prepare designs for the Museum of Modern Art’s “Organic Furniture Competition.” Their use of curved, molded plywood earned honors and marked the beginning of an influential body of work across film, architecture and even advertising campaigns.

Charles had an interest in engineering and architecture (he was kicked out of Washington University for being a Frank Lloyd Wright fan), and Ray studied painting with Hans Hofmann in New York before going to Cranbrook Academy.

The Eames House, which they built and lived in, solves problems familiar to today’s designers:

·         How to integrate the home in nature (it was built in a meadow)

·         How to maximize volume from few materials (that sounds Miesian to us)

·         How to make a home that serves a life of work (their art supplies remain at the preserved home)

 “Eventually, everything connects,” Charles Eames, the chair’s co-creator is known to have said. This documentary connects their ambitious range of works to their extraordinary partnership.

(Note to members of the Chicago Architecture Foundation and Landmarks Illinois: your admission is a discounted $7 to the Monday show).  

Photo by 13aat via Flickr

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Oct, 27, 2011,
1:25 PM

Neues this weekend

Chicago: When you can’t check out the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, let (a version of) it come to you. 

An exhibition covering this year’s Mies van der Rohe Award winner is at the Instituto Cervantes downtown through November 11. 

This award is an initiative of the European Commission organized by the Fundació Mies van der Rohe and honors the work of European architects who develop new concepts and technologies.

The winner, Neues Museum, was designed by David Chipperfield Architects in collaboration with Julian Harrap. Ramon Bosch and Bet Capdeferro recieved the Emerging Architect Special Mention for Casa Collage in Girona, Spain.

The winners received a sculpture that evokes Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion in addition to cash prizes.

(Photo by ReneSpitz via Flickr)

The exhibition closes with a lecture by architect Helmut Jahn on Friday, November 11 at 6 p.m. Reserve your space for the talk at 312.335.1996 or

For more information on the exhibition and lecture, visit Instituto Cervantes' site.

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Oct, 20, 2011,
11:29 AM

Highlight: McCormick House

A neat little history of Mies’ McCormick House is available on Daily Icon. It offers a back-to-basics look at Mies’ professional history and integrates the context of World War II in his use of materials.

Plus, the site has a floor plan of McCormick House, which could inspire those who seek a domicile full of 90-degree angles. Take a look at the maximized use of living space. For a four-bedroom, it sure doesn’t have much in the way of hallways.

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Oct, 13, 2011,
9:37 AM

Just Mies’ Type

Last week, the Society of Typographic Arts recognized the Mies Society’s website in Arts Archive11, their annual competition for design work with excellent typography.

Mies didn’t design any fonts—besides the signage in the Toronto Dominion Center—but he had some strong opinions about them. In his biography of Mies, Franz Schuze relates Mies’ contributions to the short-lived avant-garde design magazine G, which put out five issues between 1922 and 1923. Mies financed the entire third issue himself. This cost even more than you’d expect because the whole thing was printed in a sans serif font, unusual for its time.

“Sans serif” literally means “without serif.” A serif refers to the small projection at the end of each letter, giving it the appearance of having feet. The reason the modernists behind G disapproved of serifs so much is that these projections imitate handwriting. Mies and his contemporaries thought a font shouldn’t try to be what it wasn’t. This trueness to form is seen in Mies’ approach to buildings and furniture.

Today, it’s tough to imagine a world without sans serif fonts (like Helvetica, used on the Mies Society’s website), and with such vestiges of modernism all around us, it’s more important than ever that we recognize the beauty in it.

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