Michigan State University

"Postindustrial Studio Lifestyle: The Eameses in the Environment of 901."

This essay offers a case study of Charles and Ray Eames’s design studio at 901 Washington Blvd., in Venice, California. 901–as the studio became known–wasn’t just a studio, but rather embodied a more expansive studio “lifestyle”: the kind of tech-savvy, interdisciplinary working and thriving across media that, for the Eames, constituted happy, creative postwar living. 

The essay discusses the multiple determinations of 901’s studio environment, beginning in the artistic and political ferment of wartime Los Angeles. 901’s models included new kinds of things and people, from molded plywood and compact sofas, to computers and Billy Wilder, an Eames intimate and, for them, an exemplary studio pro. As the material infrastructure for the more intangible shape of postindustrial lifestyle itself, 901’s environment modeled the normative conditions of work and play, knowledge production and creativity, as feedback-driven processes of problem-solving within conditions of constant change.

Forthcoming in The Studio Reader, ed. Brian R. Jacobson, University of California Press, 2019.

This essay discusses the production, funding, and circulation of Design Workshops (1940-44), a group of 16mm Kodachrome films produced at Lazslo Moholy-Nagy’s Chicago-based School of Design (formerly the New Bauhaus), to explore the role of colour theory and practice in the communicative agendas of Moholy and his corporate sponsor, Walter Paepcke, chairman of the Container Corporation of America. As a symptomatic foray into the midcentury category of ‘communication,’ the films collected as Design Workshops–at once documents of pedagogical theory and quasi-corporate messages–involved moving images both in zones of pedagogical experimentation and the more instrumental domains of public relations, packaging, and brand management.

In the case of Moholy-Nagy’s School of Design, colour experimentation and creative making in the synthetic materials of the post-war — Saran or plywood — were wedded to the inculcation of forms of democratic subjectivity (perceptual skills, epistemologies, creative capacities) that the artist saw as essential to post-war citizenship at mid-century. The essay demonstrates Moholy-Nagy and Paepcke’s overlapping investments in colour’s functional, communicative dimensions at the School, and argues that colour film production in Design Workshops fueled a vanguard humanities vision at mid-century. The essay reads Design Workshops as an allegory of that vision and its limits, performing the work and pedagogical theory of the School for potential donors and funding agencies like the Rockefeller Foundation.

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