The Eames Shell Chair

"Art resides in the quality of doing, process is not magic"

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This time around I thought I’d share an article first published by Archicture Daily.

(words and animated gifs: Architecture Daily)

The history of the Shell Chair began more than 10 years before the design’s public debut in 1950. Years before marrying Ray, Charles was already experimenting with techniques for molding plywood, and his efforts resulted in the design of objects such as stretchers, splints and even a seat glider for the US Navy.

After the war was over and the two were married, the Eameses returned to investigating the possibility of creating a chair that could be mass-produced. Despite their efforts, they were still incapable of creating a curved plywood chair using only a “single shell” (although thanks to this experimentation the Eames Plywood Chair was born).

Two years after the debut of the Plywood Chair, they created a chair using just one “shell” in molded metal for MoMA’s International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design. They took home second place, but the prototype was too costly so they began to search for new materials such as plastic reinforced with fiberglass.

From that research the chair that we present today was born, becoming the first plastic chair made in the series. Over the years, the chair has been produced in other colors and shapes and with different upholstery options, making it not only reproducible, but also customizable. 

Today, Herman Miller manufactures an exact replica of the original chair design, incorporating a 100% recyclable polypropylene. See the 12-step fabrication process of the chair below.

eames shell chair

The colored resin is mixed in tanks.
Using technology from the auto industry, the new resin fiberglass is “monomer free,” and processed without emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or other Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs), eliminating the need for thermal oxidizers.

Eames Shell chair

2. The preforms are removed from the CNC machine and inspected.
To create preforms for the new chairs a “dry binder process” is used instead of the traditional “wet process” typically used to produce fiberglass. In the “dry binder” method, the strands of fiberglass are blown by the CNC machine onto a shell-shaped screen. A vacuum ensures that the loose particles are contained, instead of being blown into the air and captured by a “wet glue,” as in the traditional fabrication process. At this time, heat is applied to melt some of the strands and maintain the shape of the preform. It is only at this moment that a human hand comes into contact with the preform in order to inspect and clean it.

eames shell chair

3. Resin is applied to the preform.
The fiberglass preform is set in a cradle. Workers weigh the resin to calculate the exact amount needed and then pour it over the preform. The resin is smoothed and spread out using a hand tool.

eames shell chair manufacture

4. The resin-covered preform is placed in a press
Once the resin has been evenly applied to the preform, the shell is placed on a press where heat and pressure are applied. The press also cuts along the edge of the chair to eliminate excess fiberglass before the sanding process.

eames shell chair manufacture

5. The shell is inspected.
Any excess preform that is still stuck to the chair after it’s cut by the press is manually eliminated, and the shell is taken off the press to be visually inspected. The press is cleaned after each use.

eames chair shell manufacture

6. The edges are sanded.
The edges of the shell are manually sanded and then finished with an electric sander. The chair is then cleaned and sent off for its final inspection.

eames chair manufacture

7. Shockmounts are attached to the base of the shell.
The bottom of the shells are cleaned in order to effectively attach the shockmounts. An adhesive is attached to each shockmount, while the recently cleaned chairs are transported via trays and placed on top of the shockmounts. The chairs are then placed on a pressurized drying rack for two days.

eames shell chair manufacture

8. The shockmounts are torqued and tested.
During this phase, each shockmount is manually tested.

eames shell chair manufacture

9. The upholstery is sewn.
The fabric is cut by a computerized “butter cutter” and then sewn by hand.

10. The upholstery is mounted onto the chair. The foam padding is attached to the chair, after which the upholstery is fitted and attached using a “J-Channel.” The upholstery is then ironed and placed in another press where heat and pressure are applied.

10. The upholstery is mounted onto the chair.
The foam padding is attached to the chair, after which the upholstery is fitted and attached using a “J-Channel.” The upholstery is then ironed and placed in another press where heat and pressure are applied.

eames shell chair manufacture

11. The chair bases are attached to the shell.
Each chair is marked with a sticker to specify the type of base it will receive. Each base is then hand-selected and individually attached.

eames shell chair manufacture

12. Packing and Shipping
Each finished chair is cleaned and packaged for shipping.

Ray and charles eames

Ray and Charles Eames
Who ever said that pleasure wasn’t functional?

Learn more about the Shell Chair here.


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