The Case Study House Program

The homes in the Case Study House Program were built between 1945 and 1966 when Arts & Architecture magazine commissioned the major architects of the day to create inexpensive and replicable model homes to accommodate the residential housing boom in the United States caused by the flood of returning soldiers at the end of World War II. 

The resulting experiment in American residential architecture involved many of the great architects of the day such as Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, and Eero Saarinen—and had a major impact on modernist residential architecture. 

Of the 36 houses and apartment buildings that were commissioned, only a couple dozen were built, with around 20 still standing today. Eleven were added to the National Register in 2013. While most of the homes are still private residences, the Eames and Stahl Houses—are open to the public for tours. Here is a look at 10 of our favorites. 

Cover photo taken by @christineevi of the Stahl House

The Stahl House, Case Study House #22, 1959

This home embodies Pierre Koenig’s iconic representation of modernist architecture in L.A. It's been featured in numerous films, fashion shoots, and advertising campaigns over the years since it was built in 1959. Perched high in the Hollywood Hills, its floor-to-ceiling glass windows allow for stunning panoramic views of the city. 

The Eames House, Case Study House #8, 1949

Located in Los Angeles' Pacific Palisades neighborhood, The Eames House—also known as Case Study House #8—is a landmark of midcentury modern architecture. Constructed in 1949 by husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames, the house consists of two glass-and-steel rectangular boxes: one served as their residence, while the other was their studio. The facades consist of black-painted grids with different-sized inserts of glass (clear, translucent, or wired), gray Cemesto panels (both painted and natural), stucco (off-white, black, blue, and orange/red), aluminum (silver or painted), and specially-treated panels (gold-leafed or with a photographic panel). In reference to the Eames’ work, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History blogged, "In all of their projects, color was a strategic tool; never did they apply hues indiscriminately. Rather, their brilliant palette spotlighted salient points of information that they wanted to convey, capturing both the eyes and minds of viewers." 

The Bass House, Case Study House #20B, 1958

The Bass House, which is known as Case Study House #20B (there were two Case Study Houses numbered 20), was constructed in 1958 in Altadena, California. The home differs from the other Case Study homes in that it was built primarily out of wood, instead of steel. It was designed by architectural firm Buff, Straub, and Hensman, who worked closely with the owners, renowned graphic illustrator Saul Bass and his wife biochemist Dr. Ruth Bass. The architects were interested in the possibilities of wood as it pertained to mass production in home construction.

Case Study House #1, 1948

Despite its numbering, Case Study House #1 was not the first house to be completed as part of Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House program. Designed by Julius Ralph Davidson, the 2,000-square-foot house was completed in 1948. Situated on a gently sloping lot in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the house introduced architectural elements that came to characterize the program, including floor-to-ceiling glass, a flat roof, and an open floor plan. 

Case Study House #16, 1952

Designed by Craig Ellwood, Case Study House #16 was the first of three houses in Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House program. Ellwood—who had been trained as an engineer—was a contractor without formal architectural training. Today, it's the only surviving, intact example of Ellwood’s designs for the program. His passion for industrial materials is evident in the use of of steel, glass, and concrete.

The Entenza House, Case Study House #9, 1949

Designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen and completed in 1949, the Entenza House is situated on a flat bluff in the Pacific Palisades overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The modular home features a steel frame construction, which has been concealed with wood-paneled cladding. Entenza frequently entertained, so the house consists of mostly public space. 

The West House, Case Study House #18, 1948

Constructed in the Pacific Palisades on a bluff overlooking the ocean, the West House was designed by Rodney Walker and completed in 1948. It was the first of four adjacent houses on Chautauqua Boulevard that were built as part of Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House program. Note that the neighboring Case Study Houses #8, #9, and #20 were completed within the next two years. The 1,600-square-foot home takes full advantage of panoramic ocean views with floor-to-ceiling glass panels. 

The Stuart Bailey House, Case Study House #20, 1948

Built in 1948, the two-bedroom Stuart Bailey House was designed by Richard Neutra and is currently one of two residences on the Sam Simon Estate, the Pacific Palisades property that recently sold for $14.9 million. Neutra employed a classic, open midcentury layout and large, floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors. It was the only Case Study home designed by Neutra that was actually built.

 Triad Case Study House #23A, 1960

As the largest of three adjacent single-family residences that form the Triad grouping, Case Study House #23A was completed in 1960. The three homes were planned to be the pilot project for a large tract of houses in the La Jolla district of San Diego, but these three were the only ones that were built. The goal for the Triad homes was to design in a manner that created a close relationship between the houses, while still maintaining privacy. All three homes were designed by Edward Killingsworth, Jules Brady, and Waugh Smith. 

by Nate Eudaly

The Case Study Houses Program (1945-1966) was an innovative and unique development in the history of American architecture and it remains so to this day. The program, focused in the greater Los Angeles area, created designs for thirty-six prototype houses. It also sought to make those house plans available so they could be easily constructed during the building boom that followed World War II. The programs main driving force was John Entenza, editor of the cutting-edge magazine, Arts & Architecture. Entenza, a champion of modernism, had the connections to attract architects such as Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, and Eero Saarinen to participate in the program. Their highly experimental designs, both built and unbuilt, redefined the modern home and continue to influence architects both in America and internationally. Entenzas vision for the program was to offer the public and the building industry models for low-cost housing in a modern architectural language. They foresaw an inevitable building boom in the wake of drastic housing shortages created during the depression and ensuing war years.

Using the magazine to reach potential clients, and using donated materials whenever possible, Entenza promoted the program in his monthly magazine. Prior to the programs official beginning in 1945, Entenza had sponsored competitions in the magazine for small house designs, providing a greater awareness for such designs. His focused and consistent emphasis on modernism, in architecture as well as in design and literature, made Arts & Architecture a well-suited forum for the promotion of what became the Case Study Houses Program. Entenza capitalized on this era in which social and artistic concerns combined to create a new and innovative body of work of historical importance. Elizabeth Smith, in her definitive book, Case Study Houses:

The Complete CSH Program, 1945-1966, documented that participants in the program included well established architects with international reputations as well as those previously known only in the Los Angeles area.

Her extensive research for that book provided much of the source material for this article. Well known architects participating in the program included the previously referenced Neutra, Eames, and Saarinen, as well as others including Craig Elwood and Pierre Koenig.

Those primarily known only in L.A. until catapulted to greater recognition by their Case Study designs included Whitney Smith, Thornton Abell, and Rodney Walker. Entenza personally invited all participants, based on his judgment of their ability to make key, innovative contributions to the program. Thus, the program is in many regards a subjective roster of Entenzas choices rather than a comprehensive overview of architects in practice during the time period. Architects including R. M. Schindler, Harwell Harris, and John Lautner did not participate in the program as Entenza did not include them in his selected roster of architects for the CSH Program. Many of the early conceptual projects, such as Neutra’s Alpha and Omega houses were never built due to lack of actual clients and sites. Many of the built projects had major differences in final design and materials due to building material shortages in the post-war years. At times, to continue the progression of the Case Study Houses, Entenza and architects such as Charles and Ray Eames also became clients of the program. As the program evolved, materials used in construction became more experimental due to advances in technology and availability. Due to these advances, as well as economic prosperity in the 1950s, more projects were actually realized in an expanding geography including Long Beach, Thousand Oaks, and La Jolla for affluent clients. Toward the end of the program, fewer designs were unbuilt and the program was expanded to include some tract housing and apartments.

Today, the term case study houses almost has a generic implication of modestly designed and constructed modern architecture. However, the actual program covered a wide range of design sensibilities in cost, scope, and materials. Some of the programs best known homes by Eames, Ellwood, and Koenig are similar in many regards to the spirit of International Style modernism, using industrial construction methods and materials for residential projects. However, a substantial portion of the case study houses involved more traditional, though still modern, residential construction. Architects designing in this style included Thornton Abell, Julius Ralph Davidson, Richard Neutra, Rodney Walker, and the firms of Bluff, Straub & Hensman, and Killingsworth, Brady & Smith. The Case Study Houses Program ended in 1966 when Arts & Architecture ceased publication.

The program had become almost iconic for many architects by this time. Reyner Banham, in his article for the Blueprints for Modern Living publication, credits the CSH program as being a driving factor in the development of the HighTech style. A great number of architects in practice today continue to draw inspiration from the spirit of the CSH program. This innovative program, and the designs it produced, both built and unbuilt, serve as key building blocks for the design of many of the most highly-acclaimed contemporary residences being constructed today.

For that, we will continue to owe the Case Study Houses Program a debt of gratitude.

Nate Eudaly is executive director of the Dallas Architecture Forum.
Elizabeth Smith, author of the Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH
Program, lectured in Dallas on February 19, 2009.


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