The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and the Eames Foundation just unveiled their Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for the Eames House, a couple months ahead of the midcentury-modern icon’s 70th anniversary. A cross-disciplinary team of heritage specialists from Getty Conservation Institute and Sydney-based GML Heritage prepared the plan, which outlines policy guidelines for not only conserving and protecting the National Historic Landmark for future generations, but also improving visitor access and education.
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Built in 1949 as part of the Case Study House program, the two-story home and artist’s study that Charles and Ray Eames designed—and lived in for nearly 40 years until their deaths—is an ingenious work of prefabrication and an exercise in efficiency.
The home’s simple shell consists of two steel-framed boxes, and it only took five men and 16 hours to complete. The light-filled interiors are as delightful as the colorful facade; the large, flexible rooms and double-height spaces share a strong connection with the outdoors.
Today, the Eames House is owned by the Eames Foundation, a non-profit established by Ray and Charles’ grandchildren who are dedicated to preserving the house as it had existed when the couple lived there. Had the Eames Foundation not been established, the house might have been demolished long ago, as it sits on large and valuable land in the affluent Pacific Palisades neighborhood.
Yet despite consistent maintenance by the Eameses—beginning with Charles and Ray, their daughter Lucia, and today by the Eames Foundation—the house was in danger of succumbing to age and the elements. In 2012, the Foundation partnered with GCI to create a long-term conservation strategy for the Eames House.
GCI’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative team spearheaded the effort and helped fund the six years of research that went into developing the Eames House Conservation Management Plan.
"In developing the Conservation Management Plan, the team started with the history of the house and its design, its physical features, and how the house embodies Charles and Ray’s creative spirit. From there, it identifies what is significant about the Eames House and presents policies that will protect this significance," says Chandler McCoy, a senior GCI project specialist who manages the Eames House conservation project. "The plan will be a vital tool in the creation of a long-term strategy to ensure that the house may be enjoyed by visitors well into the future."
Not limited to the house and landscape, the holistic scope of the Conservation Management Plan also considers Charles and Ray’s belongings, which have been meticulously kept in their original locations to recreate the home as it was at the time of Ray’s death in 1988.
"We want the Eames House to look as though Charles and Ray just stepped out for the day, and working with the GCI has helped us clarify what the site needs in order to meet this goal," says Lucia Dewey Atwood, director of the Eames Foundation’s 250 Year Project, which aims to preserve the house for generations to come.
"I’m happy to say that our approach mirrored the iterative process the Eameses used in their designing—they tested several ideas at once, refined and adjusted, then tested again in order to arrive at the best design solution."