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Case Study Houses: Lessons on Modern, Low-Budget and Easy to Build Living Spaces

  • 05:30 - 25 March, 2019
  • by
  • Translated by Maggie Johnson
Case Study Houses: Lessons on Modern, Low-Budget and Easy to Build Living Spaces
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Case Study Houses: Lessons on Modern, Low-Budget and Easy to Build Living Spaces, Case Study House 22. Image via Flickr user: mbtrama Licensed under CC BY 2.0
Case Study House 22. Image via Flickr user: mbtrama Licensed under CC BY 2.0

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. 

Case Study House 8. Image via Wikipedia user: Gunnar Klack Licensed Under CC BY-SA 4.0
Case Study House 8. Image via Wikipedia user: Gunnar Klack Licensed Under CC BY-SA 4.0

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.  

Case Study House 8. Image via Flickr User: edward stojakovic Licensed under CC BY 2.0
Case Study House 8. Image via Flickr User: edward stojakovic Licensed under CC BY 2.0

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.

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. 

Case Study House 21. Image via Wikipedia user: NielsBE Licensed Under CC BY-SA 3.0
Case Study House 21. Image via Wikipedia user: NielsBE Licensed Under CC BY-SA 3.0

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. 

Case Study House 1. Image via Wikipedia user: Junkyardsparkle Licensed under CC0 1.0
Case Study House 1. Image via Wikipedia user: Junkyardsparkle Licensed under CC0 1.0

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. 

Case Study House No. 9. (1950) / Julius Shulman Photography Archive.. Image © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
Case Study House No. 9. (1950) / Julius Shulman Photography Archive.. Image © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

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. 

Case Study House No. 9. (1950) / Julius Shulman Photography Archive.. Image © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
Case Study House No. 9. (1950) / Julius Shulman Photography Archive.. Image © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

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:

See more articles about topics of contemporary living spaces in the following links:

View the complete gallery

About this author
Cite: Dejtiar, Fabian. "Case Study Houses: Lessons on Modern, Low-Budget and Easy to Build Living Spaces" [Vivienda moderna económica de fácil construcción: lecciones de Case Study Houses] 25 Mar 2019. ArchDaily. (Trans. Johnson, Maggie) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/913748/case-study-houses-lessons-on-modern-low-budget-and-easy-to-build-living-spaces/> ISSN 0719-8884
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