The editorial notes on Arts & Architecture’s 11th Case Study House set out the “basic principles of modern architecture”: an emphasis on “order, fitness and simplicity.” Livability and practicality are key, and “sham” is frowned on. As with other houses in the series, this design by JR Davidson adheres to these goals with clean, horizontal lines, an open floor plan, and integration of the outdoor space.
It’s a modest, compact home, less high-concept than some of the other houses in the programme—no indoor plantings or reflecting pools; no complicated backstory for the imagined clients (think of the next two, #12 and especially #13)—but arguably more successful in providing a model for the average American home. Its value doesn’t depend on dramatic landscaping or views, but on thoughtful design and attention to solving everyday problems. Walking through Archilogic’s 3D model reveals the elegance of Davidson’s approach.
In particular, the magazine’s editors note how circulation through the house is achieved without criss-crossing the central living and dining room (and potentially disturbing guests). Kitchen and bathrooms are all arrayed behind the main living area, and each of the two bedrooms can be accessed on at least two sides, either from that central area or from the front part of the house (the master bedroom via the dressing room that leads off the main entrance, and the second bedroom through the utility room). It also has a separate entrance onto the main road, meaning this room—designed for a teenage child—can actually function as a guest apartment, with its own bathroom and outside area.
Davidson’s background in ship design is reflected in his habit of providing plenty of built-in storage space, which here has been carefully provided in cupboards buffering the bedrooms from bathroom or kitchen noise. The short passage joining bedroom to bathroom—between those cupboards—also offers access to overhead storage space, with further built-in storage provided in the garage.
In layout, the house is very nearly just a rectangle, turned into a chunky L by the garage and a short kitchen extension. The long side holds the sleeping and living rooms, all of which enjoy southern exposure, and all but the child’s room have those floor-to-ceiling glass walls, so familiar from other Case Study designs, opening onto the extensive patio. Since the master bedroom is next to the living room, this does entail a slightly surprising loss of privacy; hurrah for curtains!
On the shorter north side, facing a side street, the facade is interestingly varied; the glass door and sidelight are flanked by a long line of high windows into the dressing room, and on the other side a corner window into the kitchen and breakfast nook, behind the projecting garage. Inside, this makes for a cozy and practical corner, settled snug between the cooking and utilities spaces—and light from the entrance flows through a translucent glass screen to the dining and living area beyond, creating a bright and airy space. A fireplace further adds to the character and charm of the living room and creates a focal point away from the dining area.
The exterior design is that of a long, low structure “nestling close to the ground,” again typical for Case Study homes, with plantings placed to maximize privacy and soften any harsh lines. Wide overhangs emphasize the horizontal line of the slightly pitched roof and provide shade in summer, while still admitting sun from the lower winter sun. In this neat and effective, but unassuming, house we can see innovations that would become hallmarks of mid-century building: from under-floor heating and dry-wall construction to the open-plan layout and cement floors. The magazine’s editorial notes suggest some frustration at practical constraints including “critical material shortages and unpredictable circumstances”; this is no ambitious design project, but a very realistic attempt at building an economical family home. As such it earns its place in the Arts & Architecture programme, and in architectural history.