Original design, reengineered for outdoor living
In 1953, the industrialist J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia commissioned a remarkable modernist triumvirate to create a home for the couple in Columbus, Indiana: Eero Saarinen designed the building, Alexander Girard masterminded the interiors and Dan Kiley handled the landscape architecture. Noting a dearth of viable outdoor furnishings, Girard turned to his friends Charles and Ray Eames. Within a year, the Aluminium Group chairs were in production at Herman Miller.
Always looking to new industries and materials that could be suitably translated to the design of furniture, the Eameses turned to a material that was becoming ubiquitous in postwar America: aluminium.
The major challenge of using aluminium was one of form. “When you’ve committed yourself to casting, you’ve committed yourself to a plastic material and the kind of freedom that can really give you the willies,” Charles Eames told Interiors magazine in 1958. “At that moment you find yourself face to face with sculpture, and it can scare the pants off you.”
The Eameses arrived at a design calling for a fabric seat slung between two L-shaped aluminium elements, which in turn were held in tension by two cross-braces (referred to as “antlers” by the designers). In the chair’s earliest incarnation, a polyester plastic film covering (developed with Girard’s textiles division at Herman Miller) was employed so that the chair could be used outdoors. The plastic fabric was tripled in the high tension areas to prevent sagging and rolled neatly at the termination points of the chair. Despite the designers’ best efforts, the new material did not properly weather the elements or stand up to heavy use, and the Aluminium Group soon moved indoors and evolved to include a diverse range of variations.
Today the chairs and ottoman have been re-engineered for outdoor use with durable materials and finish options. A new fabric, Outdoor Weave, synthesises the look and feel of the original plastic film by building on the yarn and weaving technology pioneered with the Aeron chair’s Pellicle suspension material. Unlike many outdoor fabrics, Outdoor Weave contains no PVC and will hold its shape and colour over time. A choice of outdoor powder-coat frame colours, and a return to a 4-star base, complete the update.
Herman Miller wins a Best of NeoCon Innovation Award for its re-engineering of the Eames Aluminium Group chairs.2012Herman Miller wins a Best of NeoCon Innovation Award for its re-engineering of the Eames Aluminum Group chairs.