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You may well be familiar with the Eames LCW, or Lounge Chair Wood. Designed in 1945-1946, it is simple, functional and elegant, using three curving planes of plywood to create a chair that is comfortable to sit on and beautiful to look at. It is designed to be both comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, with the moulded plywood curves supporting your back and the wide curved seat holding your weight comfortably.

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Where did this iconic design originate?

The creators of the chair, husband and wife Charles and Ray Eames, began moulding plywood for a very different purpose: they were making medical supplies for the US Navy during the second world war. Specifically, they designed plywood leg splints for use by battlefield medics.

Before Charles and Ray developed their splints, metal splints were used. To put it bluntly, these were a disaster. Metal splints were heavy and awkward to use and could even make an injury worse through their vibrations. Many wartime amputations were due to the difficulty of getting wounded soldiers off the battlefield; however, the Eames splint began to change this.

An artistic approach to medicine

Charles and Ray designed a splint that took into account the curves of the human body. It was made from moulded plywood and bonded with resin – the precursor of the kind of metal bonding adhesive produced by companies such as today. The plywood was heated and then moulded to Charles Eames’s own leg to ensure that it would fit properly. The resulting splint was lightweight; therefore, it was easy to store and to transport in large numbers. The splint also had a slatted designed that allowed medics to pass bandages through it to secure a wounded patient’s leg securely.

Charles and Ray Eames were not the only designers and artists to turn their talents to aiding medicine; for example, Anna Coleman Ladd turned her sculpture skills to reconstructing faces for soldiers injured in the war.

After the war, Charles and Ray went on to design their classic chair, developing the techniques they had used for the leg splints. It is not just expertise that they gained from their work – the money they earned allowed them to become full-time designers and follow their dreams.

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