La Chaise

Charles and Ray Eames

Design: 1948
Production: 1990 to the present
Manufacturer: Vitra AG, Basel
Size: 82.5 x 150 x 85; seat height 37 cms
Material: fiberglass, iron rods, wood

The priority given to arms production and the influx of numerous refugees at the end of World War II created a dire housing shortage in the United States; at the same time, there was a very limited selection of low-priced, space-saving furniture available on the market. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museum Design Project, Inc., a non-commercial association of furniture producers and retailers, announced an international competition entitled “Low-Cost Furniture Design” on January 5, 1948, as a means of coping with the emergency. The organizers expected that the high-profile nature of this project would serve to inspire designers and producers throughout the world. The hope was that the development of a new generation of fresh, novel furniture designs to be distributed on a broad basis would help to improve the housing situation. The competition, which closed on October 31 of the same year, met with such an unexpectedly high international response that the judging of entries and the creation of prototypes of prizewinning models for the planned exhibition had to be delayed. A total of 3,000 drafts were submitted from thirty-one countries; 2,500 of these came from the United States, 500 from Europe. Charles and Ray Eames won second prize with their designs for molded, nonupholstered seats made of sheet steel or aluminum (see the “DAX” chair). While “La Chaise” was not one of the prize-winning designs, its elegant form made it one of the most notable competition entries, and it accordingly appeared in the catalogue and the exhibition, both realized in 1950. “La Chaise” consists of two very thin fiberglass shells that have been glued together and separated by a hard rubber disk; the resulting cavity is filled with styrene. Unlike Eero Saarinen’s “Womb Chair,” the Eameses’ plastic shell is not upholstered. The base is created by five metal rods in a partly diagonal arrangement that has been set into a construction of intersecting pieces of wood. With the “Organic Armchair,” a joint Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen project dating from 1940, the gap between the back and the seat was technically necessary, as it allowed the laminated veneer layers to be shaped three-dimensionally. By contrast, this gap is a design element in “La Chaise,” as molding plastic rendered it redundant. The lightness of the structure was underscored visually by perforating the part with the largest volume, a stylistic device also used by sculptors such as Henry Moore. Formal analogies to sculptural elements in Salvador Dali’s surrealist pictures are discernible (e.g. Atavistic Ruins after the Rain, 1934; and Sleep, 1937). Charles and Ray Eames imagined that a flowing sculpture by the influential French-American sculptor Gaston Lachaise (1882 - 1935) would blend in well with their chair, hence the name. The furniture sculpture is manufactured by Vitra since 2006 in wet painted polyurethane. PD

Charles and Ray Eames

Charles and Ray Eames La Chaise