The Eames’, IBM, And The Dawn Of Computing

The Eames’, IBM, And The Dawn Of Computing


What do you do if you’re IBM in the 1950s and need to market your behemoth computing machine to a conservative public? Commission a 10-minute informative short to designers Charles and Ray Eames, of course! “The Information Machine” was the result of a unique collaboration that aimed at naturalizing the computer within the context of civilization’s intellectual history and American consumerism–-no easy feat.

IBM wanted to present a positivist message to underlie its machines and strategically chose the 1958 Brussels’ World’s Fair–which, coincidentally, also saw the experimental Philips Pavilion/video installation by Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis–to debut the Eames’ film. Using scratchy, Peanuts-esque animation, the Eames construct a tautological schema charting the origin and development of human thought processes, namely abstraction and simulation. A primitive man, the first “artist,” walks the earth observing natural forms and storing their visual properties in a “memory bank” which supplies the data for entire systems of logic. It’s a dramatic, if somewhat comical leap from the first sail boat (tree + shell + spider web = mast + hull + sail, duh.) to the cybernetic revolution and the preeminence of the computer–with a brief detour through the evolution of architectural forms, from the post-and-lintel Greek temple up through the geodesic dome. Interesting is how the Eames render physical the information-bearing processes whose material dimensions we generally tend to marginalize, if not entirely ignore. “This is information,” the narrator intones over a backdrop of moving mechanical parts, shuffling punch cards, and dancing encoded lights.

Republished with permission from the Architizer Blog.