CASE STUDY HOUSE PROGRAM / NEW AMERICAN LIVING
Following the end of the Second World War, many in the Architecture and design world questioned the very notion of the post-war home. What would a contemporary “House” even look like? What elements would appeal to everyday Americans? New houses needed to be built for those who served in the war and their families. These debates raged on in the offices of "Arts and Architecture", where editor John Entenza devised a project to put the deliberations to rest.
The editor assembled a team of seven world-renowned architects to each design contemporary post-war homes. This original list consisted of; JR Davidson, Richard J. Neutra, Sumner Spaulding, Eero Saarinen, William Wilson Wurster, Charles Eames and Ralph Rapson. The program went on from 1945 to 1966, the project's mission: to build houses that were economical for everyday Americans while also pushing the boundaries of construction, design, and modern living. While optimistic and ambitious, Entenza could not have foreseen the ramifications his project would have on modern architecture and American culture as a whole.
Entenza’s criteria for the project made sure the architects understood the necessity of using modern materials accessible to a middle-class family on a budget. He stated the materials would have to be, “...best suited to the expression of man’s life in the modern world.” This involved the use of cement blocks, industrial glass, and plywood, which effectively brought down the cost of construction while simultaneously solving many ergonomic difficulties the location may cause.
Each home was also built on the principle that the architects chosen would try their best to conceive practical solutions to housing problems unique to California. This could mean using innovative structural techniques suitable for ventilating a home during the warm summer climate, or finding new solutions to the challenges of building on hills, deserts, and slopes.
The designer couple of Charles and Ray Eames became clients for their own Case Study home. Located seaside amidst hills and eucalyptus trees, in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood, their domicile was designed in 1945 and finally finished in 1949. Designed in a box-like shape, the building highlights the Eames' love of industrial design and the outdoors. All while still maintaining a homespun warmth on the exterior, with colorful painted panels displayed boldly on its glass and steel framework.
The Eames' wanted to build a home for a couple who worked in arts and design and whose children had already moved out. This work-life concept dictated the focus of the design. Parallel to their main living quarters, is the studio where the couple worked, adjacent to it was a central court that separated the two structures, this is where guests would usually be greeted. A south court was also located next to the living room, where the couple would normally have lunch.
Like many of the Case Study homes, the application of floor-to-ceiling glass windows created the illusion of a more open space that would stretch to the outdoors. The designers made sure to incorporate the sensory experience of the outside while keeping in mind the aesthetics and practicality of the home. Factrolite glass panels were placed intentionally on areas of the home that required more privacy (kitchen, and bathrooms). A wall of Eucalyptus tallowwood was placed through their courtyard adjacent to the Eucalyptus trees outside, showcasing the dichotomy of building materials amidst their raw, natural state.
The couple lived in the home until their deaths, today the house belongs to the Eames Foundation and is a tourable commercial property. The home's construction reflects the couple's approach to design and life as a whole. The constant work-life ethos, and their connection to nature highlighted their progressive ideals on how modern humans should live and orient themselves in the world. These new radical ways of living were brought to the American mainstream by the Eames' and other champions of modernism involved with the program.
In May 1954, the Stahl couple purchased a small plot of land on Sunset Blvd. After five years of laborious work on the lot, the two hired Architect Pierre Koenig to construct their dream home. Koenig pitched the idea to John Entenza and the project was given the House No. 22 moniker soon after.
Originally designed by its proprietor, Buck Stahl, a sign painter, and graphic designer, Buck made a 3D model of the home before showing it to Koenig. There were numerous challenges and negotiations with city officials and banks. Being developed on a hill and cliffside, it was incredibly difficult to finance and bring up to code. Unwilling to compromise the integrity of the design, Koenig went back and forth with officials from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety explaining his plans and steel construction techniques.
The house was constructed in an L-shape, with steel frames, cement, and a dubious amount of glass. This unusual use of modern materials coupled with an open-floor plan, helped save on costs. The wall-to-wall glass paneling opened up the home to the outside. To get approval from the bank, the Stahl's needed to add more value to the property. In place of a courtyard, they were forced to attach a swimming pool to the property. The concrete pool appears grandiose atop the hills, situated central to the rest of the home, orienting the space to create a spectacular panoramic view of the city below.
Photographer Julius Schulman's contribution to the program cannot be understated. His lively, angular photographs of the structures were enough to win over the hearts and minds of skeptics in the architecture world, along with everyday Americans who would have no interest in glass houses made of steel. His iconic black and white composition consisted of two young women, lounging in a living room encased in a delightfully lit glass structure. The sense of otherworldliness was only heightened by how high up they were in proximity to the city lights below. This mythical image, along with many others taken for the program presented Americans with the possibility of a new breed of domestic living.
The success and attention the house received made it easy for the Stahl's to rent their home out for movie crews and tours. It has since appeared in various films, TV shows, and video games making it Los Angeles' most prominent residency.
In essence, the Case Study House Program did not accomplish what editor John Entenza had proposed. None of the houses built in conjunction with the project went on to see mass-production, some were too costly for the average American, and others posed logistical problems that were unique to their creation. The vast majority of residential homes in the post-war era were consequently designed more traditionally.
While the homes did not end up solving the modern housing crises, the architecture that emerged from it continues to influence contemporary residential homes and design. These houses brought open-floor plans and the use of industrial materials into the mainstream. Coding laws were changed, and Bethlehem Steel began producing for residential structures. While the unconventional building techniques were a highlight of the project, it was the aesthetic sensibilities of the modernists that propelled these homes to newfound fame. Eames, Neutra, and Koenig have become household names with their work and influence spanning far and wide into graphic design, architecture, furniture, and industrial design.