Architecture on Film: The Films of Charles and Ray Eames + Q&A

The design duo’s playful and poetic experiments in moving image, celebrated through an evening of rare and renowned works from the archives followed by discussion.


07:00pm, Wednesday, 13 January 2016


09:00pm, Wednesday, 13 January 2016


Cinema 1
Barbican, Beech Street, London EC2Y 8AE



AF Members:
£7.50 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


Young Barbican:

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Tel (9am-8pm):
+44 (0)20 7638 8891

This is a past event

In association with the Barbican Art Gallery exhibition:

The World of Charles and Ray Eames

A special evening celebrating the design duo’s unique and influential experiments in the moving image – from investigations of their own designs and innovations in visual communication to poetic studies of everyday rituals and commissions for corporate clients – exploring architecture, design, science and the computer.

A programme of renowned and rarely seen works will be brought to the screen in their original 35mm format and as brand new digital-transfers, from material held in the Eames Archive at the Library of Congress.

The screening will be followed by discussion with Eric Schuldenfrei (ESKYIU, author ‘The Films of Charles and Ray Eames: A Universal Sense of Expectation’, Routledge 2014), Amy Gallick (Library of Congress), Eames Demetrios (Eames' grandson and director of the Eames Office) and Catherine Ince (Curator, The World of Charles and Ray Eames).

In association with the Barbican Art Gallery exhibition, The World of Charles and Ray Eames (21 October 2015 - 14 February 2016).

Image: Artwork from Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero, 1977. © Eames Office LLC.

Programme Notes by Eric Schuldenfrei

Founding Partner of ESKYIU and Associate Dean for Special Projects and Communications, Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong

In over one hundred short films made from 1950 to 1981 Charles and Ray Eames developed a social strategy that sought to increase the creative capability of each individual. While their educational exhibitions such as ‘Mathematica’ (1961) presented knowledge to instil a sense of curiosity around a subject, their films served as examples to be emulated, created to inspire the audience to make their own films. The Eameses’ objective was to bring about a society in which each person would become a producer of knowledge by acquiring the ability to disseminate their ideas widely. The Eameses succinctly expressed this concept using the film Exponents, created at the Eames office by mathematician Raymond Redheffer, as an example. Charles wrote in his notes, ‘EXPONENTS Made by the mathematician who needed it. Ideally you want to turn everybody into [a] Consumer/Producer… [a] mathematician should no more think of delegating his film to “creative” film-makers than of delegating his journal article to a “creative” essay-writer’.[i] The importance of the ‘Consumer/Producer’ resonated throughout all their later work, as they advocated for everyone’s participation in generating information.

Advocating social change, they submitted reports to museums, libraries, and institutions seeking to give the general public open access to resources and production facilities in order to make information more readily available. Similar to the unrealized 1926 proposal by Soviet film director Dziga Vertov, who believed that film production facilities and resources should be available to all citizens, the Eameses envisioned a comprehensive archival project by encouraging the opening of information held by corporations, governments, and universities.[ii] The archive was not simply a depository of information, it was an active resource in which everyone would contribute. To convey this idea the Eameses created a wide diversity of work as an attempt to expand the medium of filmmaking, from films on science and mathematics to history and toys. Each film gains greater meaning when positioned in relation to the rest of the collection, aptly illustrating the critical importance of assembling knowledge. As the collection grew, the Eameses became adept at building edifying relationships between objects and ideas.

Powers of Ten provides an obvious lesson in how different fields of science interrelate: from astrophysics to molecular biology, from the macro to the micro. However, during a lecture at Harvard University in 1970 the Eameses presented the film in vastly different terms, relating ecology to economics. Charles introduced Powers of Ten indirectly, framing a greater rhetorical operation by stating, ‘We know that we’re fouling our nest, but the discovery of knowing that we’re fouling our nest is a terribly important thing.’[iii] Without a clearly identifiable culprit to blame for ecological problems they saw occurring within America, Charles focused on the moral issue: ‘there are no innocents. Is it Con Edison or General Motors? Who is General Motors? General Motors are all the stockholders, it’s Harvard University, it’s the Rockefeller Foundation and then something happens. You’ve got to think; people, trustees of institutions, begin to take trusteeship seriously’ concluding with, ‘we want to look at this situation with a kind of a real perspective’. Directly after referring to ‘a real perspective’, the Eameses screened the 1968 version of Powers of Ten, allowing the audience to acquire a wider understanding of the universe in order to examine the issues raised in his preamble. The introduction connected Powers of Ten directly to questions of ecology and economics, positioning the message toward the need for greater collective responsibility for the environment by altering the audience’s reading of the planet.

According to the Eameses, art should never be self-expressive, but must have the productive purpose of communicating ideas. During interviews and lectures they explained the multiple meanings they sought to communicate within each film. A film featuring well-known historic images demonstrates how photographic portrayals of urban squalor influenced the shape of cities by revealing intricate social issues. An aquarium film on animals finding security in change within coastal tidal areas conveys the importance of designing systems that are able to tolerate constant disruption. A film showing scientific scales of inquiry, from the interior of a nucleus to the far reaches of outer space, shows that the earth is the only possibility for life and therefore a resource that cannot be squandered. To express their concerns for society, they embedded messages into every image. It is within these embedded messages that the films inspire, educate, and proactively instil a sense of civic ownership and responsibility to every citizen.

[i] Eames, Charles. “International Design Conference Notes.” Work of Charles and Ray Eames, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Box 217, Folder 27, June 11, 1978, 3.

[ii] Vertov’s concept relied on the centralization of production which would assemble ‘all nonacted film in one single place’, anticipating a ‘departure from authorship by one person or a group of persons to mass authorship’. See Vertov, Dziga. Kino-eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov. Edited by Annette Michelson. Translated by Kevin O'Brien. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984, 71.

[iii] The lecture quotations from Charles Eames were recorded October 26, 1970 at the Harvard University lecture ‘Norton Lecture One’.