A Virtual Look Into Beverley David Thorne's Case Study House #26

The biggest surprise in this Archilogic model is the spectrum of color. Anyone who has visited the Case Study House 26 in San Rafael, California during the last 40 years would be familiar with the building’s classic all-white steel frame look, but the architect, Beverley David Thorne, had originally picked a very different color scheme: “Dull Gold” for the steel, saffron and other more vivid colors for the interiors. “The choice of exterior colors,” wrote Thorne in Arts & Architecture magazine, “was dictated by the climate and the character of the surrounding landscape.” This Archilogic model recreates the original 1963 conditions, down to the bedroom wall and tile colors.

With the all-white scheme, Case Study House 26 resembles Mies’ Farnsworth House or one of modern architecture’s favorite references, the ocean liner. This is never more prominent than when you step out on the deep deck that floats over the site and offers a sweeping panoramic view of the Marin County hills, virtually denying that the house is built on solid earth.

The Case Study House program was an initiative sponsored by the Arts & Architecture magazine to address the housing shortage after World War II. Its mission was to provide a vision of how families might live in modern homes built with contemporary materials and technologies. With the post-war population and building boom, buildable land in California became scarce and more expensive, resulting in builders looking to hillsides as cheaper alternatives. For Case Study House 26, addressing the steeply sloped site was a self-imposed criteria that qualified the building for inclusion in the series. Ironically, the series resulted in architectural gems that did not shape mass housing, but rather influenced the tastes of discerning fans of high design. Steel frame construction was too expensive, and required too much precision, to be applied to cheap tract housing. Material-intensive details, like solid wood floors, made such houses unaffordable for most American families.

© Kathi Elliott

However, steel is an ideal material for construction on a steep slope. The large spans made possible by steel required fewer foundations, and by having the floor levels follow the terrain, the design avoided both expensive excavation or an unattractive “toothpick” look with exposed floor undersides.

“Touching the ground lightly” signaled an early environmentalist position and was a very important aspect for Thorne, who expressed this key intention in the A&A article as “resolving the integration of a space platform to the site without affecting the contours or natural state of the land or the occupants feeling that they are living on a hillside.”

A single drawing showing the section is enough to explain the entire house. It details the overall compositions and most construction details. Using only this section and a basic floor plan, the house could have been built. It is hard to imagine today, but the entire drawing set consisted of only four sheets. Many key decisions were made directly between the architect and contractor during construction, without the use of drawings. On site, the floor plan layout was flipped and prominent corners got windows instead of walls. Fittingly, the architect even got his hands dirty, helping to weld the steel frame himself.

© Kathi Elliott

Originally commissioned by the CEO of Bethlehem Steel, the first owners of Case Study House 26 were the Ketcham family, a TWA pilot and flight attendant couple, who raised their family there. The modern design corresponded perfectly to their profession. They equipped the home with cutting edge technology, like an intercom system and Jetson-esque kitchen appliances. Thorne, in addition to a few alterations, made plans to add a lower floor and pool, though they were never realized. With a few exceptions, like the current almost monochrome color scheme and a kitchen remodel, the house is preserved in its original 1963 condition.

The current owners maintain a website with more information, images and literature references on www.csh26.info, or follow them on Instagram.

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About this author
Cite: Madlaina Kalunder and Cord Struckmann, Archilogic. "A Virtual Look Into Beverley David Thorne's Case Study House #26" 23 Jun 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/790103/a-virtual-look-into-beverley-david-thornes-case-study-house-number-26> ISSN 0719-8884

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