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‘Toys are the prelude to serious ideas’ – the contraption that kicked off the solar age

In 1957, Charles and Ray Eames, the legendary husband-and-wife design team, created a solar-powered kinetic sculpture for the Aluminum Company of America ( ‘Alcoa’). Although the American designers coined their novel contraption ‘The Solar Do-Nothing Machine’ for its whimsical look and lack of evident purpose, in reality its creation was something of a breakthrough, marking one of the first uses of solar power to produce electricity. In 1995, the Eameses’ grandson, the US artist, writer and designer Eames Demetrios, discovered unedited footage of the machine, and produced a short film from the material. Set to a breezy jazz score, the piece is at once a small joy to watch in its own right and a testament to the Eameses’ belief that ‘toys and games are the prelude to serious ideas’.

©1957, 1995 Eames Office LLC. Used by permission of the Eames Office. All rights reserved.

Producer: Eames Demetrios

Photographer: Charles Eames

Music: Richard Marx

18 March 2020

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