Monday, November 26, 2007

Herman Miller and Vitra bring back the spirit of the Eamses to Bangalore and India

50 years of the Eames Legacy: The spirit of the Eamses in Bangalore and India

Image: Prof Ranjan and Sridhar Harivanam at the Herman Miller office in Bangalore with the Eames Wire Chair
Charles and Ray Eames are back in Bangalore and their spirit and their design presence is palpable at the Herman Miller office in Indra Nagar, Bangalore as well as the Vitra International showroom on Lavelle Road, Bangalore. I was able to visit these places during this Diwali vacation on my brief stay in Bangalore. I had a mission to fulfill and this took me on an Eames tour of Bangalore, which is possible today since the furniture designs of this legendary Eames couple, Charles (1907 – 1978) and Ray (1912 -1988) are now available in Bangalore through the Herman Miller Inc. and the Vitra International offering. I have been requested by my Institute to explore and develop the concept for a major conference on the Eames legacy in India, which will reach a landmark of 50 years after the writing of the Eames India Report in November 2008. This task will give me the occasion to revisit the Eames story from a number of perspectives and I proposed to share the findings periodically on this blog in the days ahead. Look out for the conference announcement and details on the NID website.

Image: Eames Wire Chair at Herman Miler Bangalore
The Herman Miller office is located a few metres short of the flyover to the Airport Road from the Indra Nagar’s famous 100 feet road, this is one of the many multinational offices that are now dotting the Bangalore landscape and a stark reminder of the massive changes taking place in the Indian business environment. Design is taking centre stage through the arrival of the Eamses through their remarkable furniture, which used to be available only as expensive rip-offs but these are now offered as original licensed products with the legendary Herman Miller warranty for the first time in India. These do not come cheap due to the still high customs duty and exclusive pricing policies but the quality is immaculate and the design memorable to guarantee satisfaction.

Image: Prof Ranjan with the Eames Chaise Lounge at the Vitra Show room in Bangalore. designed and prototyped in 1948 for Museum of Modern Art exhibition it was brought to market by Vitra in 1991.
On the other hand the Vitra business model is unique since all offerings from the Bangalore showroom are made to order at their factory in Germany and shipped direct to the customer in exclusive shipments. Vitra had licensed the Eames products originally from Herman Miller for sale in Europe and the Middle East between 1957 and 1984, but in 1984 the rights were transferred to Vitra who have been offering the products directly to their customers.
Image: A wall at Vitra Bangalore showing the exquisitely made miniature classics offered by Vitra Design Museum
I am sure that the Indian audience will gain insights about the Eames legacy and would appreciate the finer aspects of their design offerings if they have a first hand exposure to the design philosophy and product quality that is represented by the furniture designs on offer by these two licensed producers who have been faithfully following the Eames detailing and keeping the product collections in production over the years. The Eames molded plastic chair for instance has seen an amazing production run of over 5 million pieces in the 25 years after it was designed in the 1950s and it is still as fresh as it was when it was first offered.

There is much more to the Eamses than meets the eye and we will need to devote more space and time to explore the variety of design offerings that they brought to the table. Furniture, products, toys, exhibitions, animation and live action films, photography as well as the now famous “History Wall” for many specific exhibitions which was a fore-runner for the hypermedia structure that has emerged on the web, and I would like to explore all these dimensions in the days ahead.

Image: A snapshot of a quote from the Eames India Report as it appeared in the Design Issues from the MIT Press
I close this post with the opening quote from the Eames India Report, a quote from the Bhagavad Gita, that sets the tone and context for the new design Institute that they proposed to the Government of India in 1958, the then proposed National Institute of Design which was eventually set up at Ahmedabad in 1961. More to come.

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