A Threat to Human Scale: The Eames Office’s Tandem Seating System for Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (1962)
The Eames Office’s Tandem Seating System (TSS) for Chicago’s O’Hare Airport exemplifies, what Charles Eames referred to as, an “attitude of feeling” for human scale. Eames spent his entire career developing his perspective on human scale into a “habit of approach,” as he once said, or into a style of reasoning, to borrow from the philosopher of science Ian Hacking. By scale as an organizing factor in a style of reasoning I mean to emphasize the consideration of scale as a method of designing for humans. As Eames observed, such a habit and attitude were applicable to a wide range of design projects. Perhaps the best known example of scale as a style of reasoning is the film Powers of Ten (1968, 1977), but furniture, architecture, exhibitions, and more should all be included. This seminar paper will take up the architectural firm C.F. Murphy Associates’ commission of seating for the newly expanded O’Hare Airport (1962). Importantly, Charles did not advocate for the universality of human scale, as if all things were to be correlated to an unchallenged, statistically averaged, and standardized metric of the “human.” Rather, he recommended a design approach that would register the possibility and likelihood of human transfiguration and extension. With this in mind, I ask: How did the Eames style of reasoning address the relationship of a standardized seating system to thousands of bodies traveling from one destination to the next? And, how did the O’Hare project present opportunities for the Eames Office to address, what Charles had observed as the challenge of “numbers and complications [that] seem about to obliterate human scale?
Respondent: Jonathan Mekinda, University of Illinois at Chicago
The Chicago: City of Commerce and Design, 1890-1990 Seminar is part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design legacy, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.
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