The Eames were pioneers in the realms of furniture, architecture, and film in the era of modern design—one that resounded with Louis Sullivan's "law" that form ever follows function. Yes, they designed highly functional plywood splints and the über-conservative lounge chair, but when it really comes down to it, the Eames were incredibly playful designers. In fact, judging by their "Solar Do-Nothing Machine," that we spotted over at PopSci, the Eames were downright silly (in the best possible way)!
Designed in 1957, the single function of this contraption was... to have no function at all. This spinning, sparkling, whirring wonder was almost a blasphemous retaliation against all those utility-obsessed modernists. Although not necessarily consciously. The machine provides a whimsical insight into the design process of the Eames and the ludic environment that they constructed around themselves.
“In 1957 the Eames office developed one of the first devices to convert solar energy to electricity.
The Eames office asked Cal Poly for advice, but instead of sending help, the university sent a team to see what the Eames office had already learned…
The Solar Do-Nothing Machine"
However, the Eames made even this lighthearted toy into an innovation. Despite "doing nothing," it actually served as a testing ground for both solar power and new uses of aluminum. When published in Life Magazine in March 24, 1958, the machine was described as a "forerunner of future solar-power machine” and was subsequently touted by the Aluminum Company of America as "an enchanting harbinger of more useful sun machines for the future."
Solar Do-(it-yourself) nothing toy. After Charles Eames, 2009-2011 by Edgar Orlaineta. Although the original version is sadly no longer with us, Mexico City-based artist Edgar Orlaineta has reincarnated the "Do-Nothing Machine" through the art of Hojalateria (artistic tinware). Image via modernica.
We can't help but also be reminded the contemporary "maker culture" that thrives on the playful experimentation with new technologies. The direct counterpart to the Eames' whimsical contraption would probably look something like Michael Seedman's "Most Useless Machine," or "Leave Me Alone Box," which also goes out of its way to try to have no function whatsoever. Despite its obvious humor, it also shows off technological innovations—in this case, the potential of a 555 timer chip.
Lead image via Life