Nestled along the coast and within the hills and suburbs of Los Angeles, CA, stand 20 hidden gems of the modernist era, dubbed “Case Study Houses.” Dreamed up by editor John Entenza at Arts & Architecture Magazine, the program sponsored the design and construction of modern homes by esteemed architects of the day. The Case Study Houses (CSH) were an experimental response—and solution—to the social and economic demands of the era in which they were built.
Between the years 1945-1962, CSH were built during a time when America went off to war, came back from war, and underwent a golden economic era and baby boom. With so many nuclear families needing houses that were practical, affordable and adhered to the new modern way of living, the CSH projects became the physical representations of that ideal.
A handful of recognizable names are assigned to each of the studies, including Eero Saarinen, Pierre Koenig, Charles Eames, Richard Neutra, and more. While each architect brought their own personal style and modern philosophy to the CSH, the overarching theme was right in line with what the program set out to do:
“We of course assume that the shape and form of post-war living is of primary importance to a great many Americans, and that is our reason for attempting to find at least enough of an answer to give some direction to current thinking on the matter. Whether that answer is to be the ‘miracle’ house remains to be seen…the house that will come out of the vapors will be conceived within the spirit of our time, using as far as is practicable, many war-born techniques and materials best suited to the expression of man’s life in the modern world.” (1).
From this call to action, 36 houses were designed. Not all of them were actually built, but of the ones that were, 20 still stand in relatively unaltered states in and around Los Angeles. Listed here, in chronological order:
|Case Study House #2. Designed by Sumner Spaulding and John Rex, 1947. Pasadena, CA.|
|Case Study House #10. Designed by Kemper Nomland, 1947. Pasadena, CA.|
|Case Study House #15. Designed by JR Davidson, 1947. La Cañada Flintridge, CA.|
|Case Study House #17(1). Designed by Rodney Walker, 1947. Los Angeles, CA.|
|Case Study House #1. Designed by JR Davidson with Greta Davidson, 1948. Toluca Lake, CA.|
|Case Study House #3. Designed by William Wurster, Theodore Bernardi, and Donald Emmons, 1948. Los Angeles, CA.|
|Case Study House #7. Designed by Thornton M. Abell, 1948. San Gabriel, CA.|
|Case Study House #18(1). West House. Designed by Rodney Walker, 1948. Pacific Palisades, CA.|
|Case Study House #20(1). Bailey House. Designed by Richard Neutra, 1948. Pacific Palisades, CA.|
|Case Study House #8. Eames House. Designed by Charles Eames, 1949. Pacific Palisades, CA.|
|Case Study House #9. Entenza House. Designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, 1949. Pacific Palisades, CA.|
|Case Study House for 1950. Designed by Raphael Soriano, 1950. Pacific Palisades, CA.|
|Case Study House for 1953. Designed by Craig Ellwood, 1953. Los Angeles, CA.|
|Case Study House #17(2). Designed by Craig Ellwood, 1956. Beverly Hills, CA.|
|Case Study House #18(2). Designed by Craig Ellwood, 1958. Beverly Hills, CA.|
|Case Study House #20(2). Bass House. Designed by Buff, Straub, and Hensman with Saul Bass, 1958. Altadena, CA.|
|Case Study House #21. Designed by Pierre Koenig, 1958. Los Angeles, CA.|
|Case Study House #22. Stahl House. Designed by Pierre Koenig, 1960. Los Angeles, CA.|
|Case Study House #25. Frank House. Designed by Killingsworth, Brady, and Smith and Assoc., 1962. Long Beach, CA.|
|Case Study House #28. Designed by Buff & Hensman, 1966. Thousand Oaks, CA.|
To get a better idea of exactly where these are located, you can take a look at this CSH map. Among the 20 Case Study Houses that still exist, there are three that highlight modern values still relevant today:
Case Study House #8 (Eames House)
Designed by Charles Eames in 1949. Pacific Palisades, CA.
You can’t mention the mid-century modern movement in Los Angeles without mentioning Charles and Ray Eames. One of the most distinct designs in the Case Study program, this modern abode has reached just as much an icon status as its principal designers. Designed to be a living and workable home (especially for a successful couple such as the Eames’), the home eventually evolved into an open, geometric volume that blended in with its environment (2). The house even has some other reference to other modern movements; primary colored panels grace the exterior the home, which is reminiscent of the European De Stijl movement in the early 20th century.
Case Study House #21
Designed by Pierre Koenig in 1958. Los Angeles, CA.
A perfect example of steel frame meeting glass to blend the indoors with the outdoors. Originally surrounded by water, Case Study House #21 had an almost Zen garden feel to it, especially when looking through historical photos by CSH photographer, Julius Schulman. The point of the home was to show that a relatively simple construction—with relatively inexpensive materials—still had the ability to be a luxurious type of modern living for the average homeowner (3).
Case Study House #18(1) (West House)
Designed by Rodney Walker in 1948. Pacific Palisades, CA.
The description of Case Study #18’s perfected privacy might be one of the best features of this modern home: “High above the ocean, the privacy of the open south and east exposures of Case Study House No. 18 can be threatened only by an occasional sea-gull (4).” True to one of modern architecture’s main calling cards, this home is able to maximize the amount of natural light with the use of large glass windows, without forsaking the need for privacy.
The Case Study House program marks an important time in history; a time when the American landscape was drastically changing in order to keep up with immense growth following WWII. While the homes occupy a specific era, and architectural style, the sentiment of studying and creating beautiful, modern examples for the average homeowner is a rare project, and can and should be preserved.
Have you visited any of the Case Study Houses in the Los Angeles area? Please share your experiences in the comments below!