The Solar Do-Nothing Machine!

Posted on — By Brenda Tena

Today I learned something I didn’t really know about Charles and Ray Eames — and that’s saying something.

The Solar Do-Nothing Machine!

In 1957 the office of Charles and Ray Eames made a crazy contraption called a “Solar Do-Nothing Machine.” It was for the Aluminum Company of America. It was starting a new marketing campaign and they hired the two designers. They devised a “24-inch elliptical platform supporting moving pinwheels and star shapes, all made of brightly colored anodized aluminum […] and strips captured sunlight and reflected it onto 12 photovoltaic cells, converting sunlight into electricity” (A House in the Sun, 1). The “toy” as they called it, had no practical purpose, other than to enchant ideas of what solar power could mean for the future. In the following decade, there was remarkable growth in energy technologies. A necessary growth in both energy resources and in energy efficiency was a result of the war. Though, energy sourcing did not point towards solar power. In fact, there are many rare experiments about solar powered ideas post World War II. The Solar Do-Nothing Machine being one of them.

In the minds of some, the Eameses’ experiment toy was an example of what solar power meant for the distant future. Some for the immediate future. For others, it was also taken literally, as it did “nothing.” It was an indication that the infrastructure had to support the technology, and thus began the conversation for architects and engineers to do something.

Charles and Ray Eameses’ legacy lives on in every designer’s palette. This is another gizmo invention to add to their list of pioneering designs. This machine was one of the first experiements to harness solar power for electricity and inspired others to come.


Image Credit: Architizer