Inside the Newly Formed Eames Institute for Infinite Curiosity
The Eames Institute for Infinite Curiosity will bring the late design duo’s ingenuity to the masses through an extensive virtual archive and gallery. It launches with backing from Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia, an industrial designer by training who credits the Eameses with “changing the trajectory” of his life.
Joe Gebbia planned on being a fine artist when he first arrived at the Rhode Island School of Design, but quickly became fascinated with industrial design—in particular, the widely influential molded plywood chair by Ray and Charles Eames. Diving into the midcentury power couple’s ethos of democratizing design for the masses, he recalls, set him on the course that resulted in the founding of Airbnb, the ubiquitous home-sharing platform recently valued at more than $130 billion. Now, the entrepreneur is paying it forward by financially backing the Eames Institute for Infinite Curiosity, a newly launched nonprofit that aims to bring the duo’s lessons to those looking to solve today’s thorniest design issues.
The nonprofit is the brainchild of curator Llisa Demetrios, granddaughter of Ray and Charles, who previously worked as a bronze sculptor and an archivist at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She’ll help steer the institute alongside president and CEO John Cary, who formerly served as the executive director of Public Architecture and consulted for the Obama Foundation. The institute currently exists as a website that will publish an online magazine called Kazam! (fittingly named after a tool the duo designed to create complicated 3D forms such as molded furniture) and an archive of Eames objects that can be explored in detail. While the institute is operating out of the private Eames Ranch in Petaluma, California, plans to open a physical space aren’t set in stone just yet.
Expect that archive to grow considerably, albeit piecemeal. Demetrios is currently unpacking the extensive trove of ephemera used throughout her grandparents’ practice, the majority of which has been sitting in storage facilities across the Bay Area for three or four decades. It’ll require some patience—Demetrios predicts that when the process of cataloging, conserving, photographing, and publishing is complete, the collection will easily exceed 20,000 objects. For now, the institute is launching with three virtual exhibitions that peel back the layers of the duo’s lives before joining forces, how their plywood innovations helped problem-solve during World War II, and the radical yet circuitous origins of the Eames Shell Chair.
“Being able to share the legacy of Ray and Charles in this way, to showcase their incredible process and wide-angled vision of design, is the dream of a lifetime,” Demetrios says. “I hope the institute’s efforts will help people find inspiration for solving problems in their own world. It’s so exciting to think about how many more people will get to share [this] experience, and for the legacy of my grandparents to evolve in surprising and delightful new directions.”