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.
Arts & Architecture’s Case Study House program was supposed to be about creating replicable, affordable designs for post-war living—stylish but modest homes for young families on a budget. And then came house #17(2).
To be fair, this house was designed for real clients, with specific and ambitious requirements. The Hoffmans had four children, a household staff, and an art collection. So this was never going to be just another suburban three-bedroom.
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.
The tenth Case Study House wasn’t actually intended for the Arts & Architecture programme. It was added on its completion in 1947, to fill out the roster, as many houses remained unbuilt. Clearly, the Nomland design earned its place on the list, having many features in common with other Case Study homes and, most importantly, meeting the stated aims of economy, simplicity, new materials and techniques, and indoor/outdoor integration. The different departure point, however, can be seen in the layout. Whereas Case Study homes were designed primarily for families, this plan is for “a family of adults”—which is to say, a childless couple.
WATG Urban's first prize design for The Freeform Home Design Challenge in 2016 is now moving one step closer to becoming a reality. Since winning the competition, WATG's Chicago office has been developing the winning design, dubbed Curve Appeal, alongside Branch Technology. Curve Appeal is now undergoing the "wall section testing, research and development phase" with an anticipated goal of breaking ground later this year. This revolutionary project could change the way we construct complex, freeform structures.
The seventh house in the Arts & Architecture Case Study program was built with real clients in mind: a family of three with creative hobbies. The result, designed by Thornton M Abell, is a flexible home with a distinctive functional character.
The house divides neatly into three separate areas: to the left of the entrance, working spaces make up nearly half of the full floorplan, with living and sleeping areas off to the right and extending forward into the garden. Sliding panels between the roomy central reception/dining area and the cozy living room create the option of privacy or extra space, as required, with the terrace and splash pool beyond offering further possibilities for summer entertaining. A small planting area beside the sliding door blurs the line between indoors and out.
The fourth house in Arts & Architecture’s Case Study program departed from the trend with a noticeably more introverted design. Intended for a modestly sized urban lot, rather than the dramatic and expansive canyon or forest locations of so many other Case Study homes, it couldn’t borrow drama from the landscape, nor would the residents welcome curious glances from their close neighbors—so the house looks entirely inward.
Rapson called his design the “Greenbelt House” for the glass-covered atrium that divides the living and sleeping areas. In his original drawings and model, as in Archilogic’s 3D model shown here, this strip is shown filled with plant beds in a striking geometric pattern. However, Rapson imagined that it could be put to many uses, according to the residents’ tastes: a croquet court or even a swimming pool could find their place here. This “brings the outdoors indoors” rather more literally than, for instance, Richard Neutra’s expansive, open-door designs.
Only three of the Arts & ArchitectureCase Study Houses were built outside Los Angeles, and those three formed a united concept. The Triad Houses in La Jolla, a seaside suburb of San Diego, share a single driveway, motor court, and design vocabulary, while being created to meet different needs.
In keeping with the Case Study mission, all three houses used open-plan design, affordable modern materials (such as aluminium and concrete with wood frames), and plenty of glass to create a fresh and open mood. The emphasis was on strong geometric forms, careful detailing, horizontal lines (with perfectly flat roofs) and – this being the Californian coastline – dramatic views and outdoor living space, creating the illusion of more interior space than was actually present.
Nestled in the verdant seaside hills of the Pacific Palisades in southern California, the Entenza House is the ninth of the famous Case Study Houses built between 1945 and 1962. With a vast, open-plan living room that connects to the backyard through floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors, the house brings its natural surroundings into a metal Modernist box, allowing the two to coexist as one harmonious space.
Like its peers in the Case Study Program, the house was designed not only to serve as a comfortable and functional residence, but to showcase how modular steel construction could be used to create low-cost housing for a society still recovering from the the Second World War. The man responsible for initiating the program was John Entenza, Editor of the magazine Arts and Architecture. The result was a series of minimalist homes that employed steel frames and open plans to reflect the more casual and independent way of life that had arisen in the automotive age.
The third Arts & ArchitectureCase Study House has a noticeably different sensibility to that of many of the other designs in the series. While equally engaged with the goal of maximizing enjoyment of the natural surroundings, in this design the architects show more concern for privacy and protection.
The approach from the street is somewhat forbidding; aluminum siding presents an impenetrable front. Besides the front and garage doors, the small, high kitchen windows are the only visible openings, though it is possible to peer over the fence of grape stakes into the children’s private garden.
The second house in Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study Houses program shows the hallmarks of the series: an emphasis on light-soaked living areas, indoor-outdoor living, strong horizontal lines dominated by a flat roof, and so on. It is distinguished, though, by particularly creative details linking the indoor and outdoor areas, and by a strong awareness of function.
The Bailey house—one of Richard Neutra’s four Case Study designs for Arts & Architecture—forms one of five Bluff houses, standing high above the ocean. The brief was to create a low-budget home for a young family, with just two bedrooms, but offering the possibility of expansion as time went by (which did in fact transpire; additional Neutra-designed wings were later built).
Neutra employed the same indoor-outdoor philosophy that can be seen at work in his unbuilt Alpha and Omega houses, using large sliding glass doors to create light and a visual sense of space, as well as ensuring that the house physically opened up to, as he put it, “borrow space from the outdoors.” With this sunny Californian ocean-view setting, it made perfect sense to use the back garden and terrace as living and dining room.
In designing his (unbuilt) house for the Arts & ArchitectureCase Study program, Whitney Smith, like Richard Neutra, prioritized the connection to outdoor space. His motivation, however, was more specific than a desire to extend the living area of a small house. Rather, he wanted to create a highly personal space, geared to the passion of his hypothetical client. Seeing conventional plans as a straitjacket for residents who craved appropriate working space within their home (be it a sewing studio or a photography darkroom), he aspired to fit this house to the needs of a keen horticulturist.
Of the four homes designed by Richard Neutra for the Case Study Houses program, post-war thought experiments commissioned by Arts & Architecture, only one was ever realized. In the imaginary village of the program's many unbuilt homes, next to #6, the Omega house, stands #13, named Alpha. Archilogic’s 3D model gives us a unique chance to experience this innovative concept home.
Each of Neutra’s projects was designed for a family of five, and each reveals his psychoanalytic approach to architecture, in which the house itself is an intimate part of family relationships, as important as the personalities involved. (Neutra was personally acquainted with Freud, and a committed follower of birth trauma theorist Otto Rank.) Underlining this Freudian view, his imaginary clients are not just neighbours—they are related; Mrs Alpha being sister to Mrs Omega.
As A Quincy Jones rightly said, “There’s no unimportant architecture”. The late architect worked alongside his colleague, Frederick E. Emmons, putting their hearts and souls into the design of Case Study House #24, but sadly it was never built. The location in which Case Study House #24 was to be constructed was once a part of the Rolling Hills Ranch, the area which is now popularly known as San Fernando Valley.
The design of the house started with the surrounding environment, which is richly brought out in the architectural drawings by the architects. The region with its lush green vegetation invites swimming, barbecuing, horse riding and other such outdoor activities.
For those of us that aren’t based out of a university—and even for many who are—finding research resources that cover the topic you're interested in can be a challenge. But they can be found, and thanks to the internet your search no longer needs to be limited to nearby libraries. In fact, many world-renowned libraries and magazines are now working to digitize important parts of their collection, while a number of online organizations have sprung up with missions to improve access to information. To help you identify some of the most useful, we’ve put together a list of 18 free websites that offer scholarly articles, publications, photos, videos, and much more.