Between 1945 and 1966, the Case Study Houses program, following the Weißenhof-siedlung exposition, commissioned a study of economic, easy-to-build houses. The study included the creation of 36 prototypes that were to be built leading up to post-war residential development. The initiative by John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture magazine, brought a team to Los Angeles that featured some of the biggest names in architecture at the time, including Richard Neutra, Charles & Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, and Eero Saarinen, among others.
The program's experiment not only defined the modern home and set it apart from its predecessors, but it also pioneered new construction materials and methods in residential development that continue to influence international architecture to this day. Take a detailed look at some of the program's most emblematic work together with recommendations for facing contemporary challenges.
Modern Living Space: Adapting to new needs, activities, and lifestyles
"What is a house?" asked Eames. He soon answered his own question with a drawing that captured the new ways that people used and lived in the contemporary home: listening to music, watching movies, entertaining, and relaxing. These functions led to the introduction of open floor plans and multi-purpose rooms divided between public and private spaces, which quickly became the norm for modern house design.
In this sense, living spaces also began to stand out for the creative details that began to link the inside of the residence with the outside, mainly by maximizing the use of open air spaces. Sliding doors, furniture, and other elements were another facet to the personalization of spaces in an attempt to satisfy the the tastes and wants of the future residents while keeping in mind their security and privacy.
Another interesting factor was the attention given to storage spaces such as cabinets, shelves, and closets, especially in kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms. In this sense, as shown in the film “House: After Five Years of Living,” made by Eames in 1955, the resident's personal possessions and where they are exhibited play an important role in humanizing a living space.
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Low-Budget Housing: Understanding New Materials and Reducing Energy Costs
As can be seen in numerous examples, the decision to use materials such as cement blocks, plywood, and industrial glass dramatically reduced the project's costs. In turn, by using the resistance of the metal, the designers were able to use smaller dimensions for the columns and beams, resulting in smaller frameworks to enclose the spaces. Maintenance costs were even lower. The materials could be left exposed in their raw form or covered with a light coat of paint and could easily be replaced in the event of breakage.
The low-cost trend gained even more momentum with the development of various methods to reduce heating and lighting expenses. The use of large floor-to-ceiling windows maximized natural light and their sliding fixtures allowed for optimal air-flow. Furthermore, the wide incorporation of plants and green space also worked to keep the home cool and comfortable.
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Easy-to-build Living Spaces: Using the Most Efficient Construction Methods
An interesting aspect that could be seen in numerous houses was modular construction - giving homes a simple geometry that not only facilitated the standardization of the building process but also allowed homes to be pre-manufactured as a way to reduce building time.
Pre-fabricated systems reduced the number of construction jobs that needed time to dry or set and offered a feasible and more importantly, replicable, solution with the intelligent mixing of materials, such as aluminum and wooden frameworks. If a method could not be replicated across different experiments, it still served as an example in the research and development of construction technology in housing.
Another important element of pre-fabrication is the idea of "core services" that house the plumbing and heating installations that center around kitchens and bathrooms as a way to consolidate one of the living space's biggest expenses.
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For more information and examples, we recommend visiting the following links where you can get a first-hand look at the living spaces and their layouts:
- Case Study House #1 / Julius Ralph Davidson
- Case Study House #2 / Sumner Spaulding & John Rex
- Case Study House #3 / William W Wurster & Theodore Bernardi
- Case Study House #4 / Ralph Rapson’s "Greenbelt House"
- Case Study House #6 / Richard Neutra: The Omega House
- Case Study House #7 / Thornton M Abell
- Case Study House #8 / Charles y Ray Eames: The Eames' House
- Case Study House #9 / Charles & Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen: The Entenza House
- Case Study House #10 / Kemper Nomland & Kemper Nomland Jr
- Case Study House #11 / J R Davidson
- Case Study House #12 / Whitney R Smith
- Case Study House #13 / Richard Neutra: The Alpha House
- Case Study House #20 / Richard Neutra: The Bailey House
- Case Study House #21 / Pierre Koenig
- Case Study House #22 / Pierre Koenig: The Stahl House
- Case Study House #23 / Killingsworth, Brady & Smith
- Case Study House #24 / A. Quincy Jones & Frederick Emmons
- Case Study House #26 / Beverley David Thorne
See more articles about topics of contemporary living spaces in the following links:
- Will Open-Source, Technological Solutions Ever Lead to the Dream of Universal Affordable Housing?
- 6 Thoughts On Materials and Construction: Decisions That Improve People's Quality Of Life
- OPEN Architecture and Xiaomi Unveil MARS Case Housing Prototype at China House Vision 2018
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 25, 2019.