CASE STUDY HOUSE
As World War II came to an end, John Entenza, the visionary editor of the now-defunct Arts & Architecture magazine, wanted to catalyze prototypical housing designs for the average American family. In the following excerpt from the January 1945 issue of his magazine, Entenza describes his vision. Years later the Architectural Review would call it ``one of the most distinguished and influential architectural research programs ever inaugurated.''
BECAUSE most opinion, both profound and light-headed, in terms of postwar housing is nothing but speculation in the form of talk and reams of paper, it occurs to us that it might be a good idea to get down to cases and at least make a beginning in the gathering of that mass of material that must eventually result in what we know as ``house - post war.''
It is with that in mind that we now announce the project we have called The ``Case Study'' House Program.
We are, within the limits of uncontrollable factors, proposing to begin immediately the study, planning, actual design, and construction of eight houses, each to fulfil the specifications of a special living problem in the Southern California area. Nationally known architects, chosen not only for their obvious talents, but for their ability to realistically evaluate housing in terms of need, have been commissioned to take a plot of God's green earth and create ``good'' living conditions for eight American families. They will be free to choose or reject on a merit basis, the products of national manufacturers offering either old or new materials considered best for the purpose by each architect in his attempt to create contemporary dwelling units.
We will try and arrange the over-all plan so that it will make fairly good sense, despite the fact that building even one house has been known to throw a client off balance for years. Briefly, then, we will begin on the problem as posed to the architect, with the analysis of land in relation to work, schools, neighborhood conditions, and individual family need.
Beginning with the February issue of the magazine and for eight months or longer thereafter, each house will make its appearance with the comments of the architect - his reasons for his solution and his choice of specific materials to be used.
Architects will be responsible to no one but the magazine, which having put on a long white beard, will pose as ``client.'' It is to be clearly understood that every consideration will be given to new materials and new techniques in house construction.
All eight houses will be opened to the public for a period of from six to eight weeks and thereafter an attempt will be made to secure and report upon tenancy studies to see how successfully the job has been done. Each house will be completely furnished under a working arrangement between the architect, the designer, and the furniture manufacturer, either to the architect's specifications or under his supervision.
This, then, is an attempt to find out on the most practical basis known to us, the facts (and we hope the figures) which will be available to the general public when it is once more possible to build houses.
It is important that the best materials available be used in the best possible way in order to arrive at a ``good'' solution of each problem, which in the over-all program will be general enough to be of practical assistance to the average American in search of a home in which he can afford to live.
Not only in very practical changes of materials and techniques, but in the distribution and financing of those materials lie factors that are likely to expand considerably the definition of what we mean when we now say the word ``house.'' How long it will take for the inevitable social and economic changes brought about by the war years to affect our living standards, no one can say.
Perhaps we will cling longest to the symbol of ``house'' as we have known it, or perhaps we will realize that in accommodating ourselves to a new world the most important step in avoiding retrogression into the old, is a willingness to understand and to accept contemporary ideas in the creation of environment that is responsible for shaping the largest part of our living and thinking.
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.
What man has learned about himself in the last five years will, we are sure, express itself in the way in which he will want to be housed in the future. Only one thing will stop the realization of that wish and that is the tenacity with which man clings to old forms because he does not yet understand the new.
It becomes the obligation of all those who serve and profit through man's wish to live well, to take the mysteries and the black magic out of the hard facts that go into the building of ``house.''
This can be, and to the best of our ability will be, an attempt to perform some part of that service. But this program is not being undertaken in the spirit of the ``neatest trick of the week.'' We hope it will be understood and accepted as a sincere attempt not merely to preview, but to assist in giving some direction to the creative thinking on housing being done by good architects and good manufacturers whose joint objective is good housing.
The Case Study Houses differed radically from contractor-designed homes available after the war. The Case houses were built on flat concrete slabs and used standardized materials such as plywood panels, concrete blocks, stock sheet glass. The open plans eliminated formal dining rooms and provided flexible, multi-purpose spaces. Traditional fa,cades disappeared in favor of private outdoor spaces in the rear with walls of sliding glass doors. The following excerpts are taken from ``Case Study Houses 1945-1962,'' published by Hennessey & Ingalls Inc., Santa Monica, Calif., and written by Esther McCoy, an architectural writer and editor who was at one time on the editorial advisory board of Arts & Architecture magazine. Used by permission of the author.
WITH wary nostalgia, I recall that The ``Case Study'' House Program began as a plan to protect modern architecture from the flourishing eclectics. But the modern movement was doing well; it had always done well in California from the time we had more or less inherited it from Chicago at the turn of the century.
The case studies opened a new chapter in the design of small houses - usually two bedrooms, always two baths - for families without servants. (The houses were prophetic of the 50s and 60s, when servants disappeared almost entirely.) Seldom in the United States had architects concentrated so much attention on the small single-family house as in the case study program. There was a belief popular at the time that a house was an invitation to architects to be self-indulgent, also that architects preferred a single house to multiple housing....
The very looseness of the program, as announced in 1945, was responsible in a way for its survival; in the first place it was obviously not written by a committee but by one person, one who understood the chaotic period after the war ended. There was sure to be an enormous amount of building to make up for the almost total absence of it during the war years, and the slowdown during the Depression. The case study program encouraged a body of work which it was hoped would turn the tide against the Anne Hathaway cottage and the salt box....
The houses were conceived as low-cost, but inflation grew and prices soared. Standardized elements were used but did not reduce costs. There was an effort to arrive at the prototypical, if only in floor planning and detailing. The open plan was one of the few borrowings from Frank Lloyd Wright; the designs looked more to Europe than inward. They were modular, rectilinear, and built on a flat slab; they were distinct from their sites....
There were precedents for the program, the Weissenhof development in Stuttgart in 1927, and the 1930 Werkbundsiedlung in Vienna, both of them made up of exhibition houses and flats of modern design, and both examples of good community planning. There was an attempt to take the structures out of the handcraft tradition and make use of available technology. The outstanding example of this was Mies van der Rohe's apartment building in Stuttgart, the steel framing allowing interior partitions to be placed at will - maybe the first example of advanced participatory planning....
A good living environment for the case houses included landscape design by talented men in the field and furnishings in the best contemporary spirit. During the first three years of the program, six houses were completed, furnished, landscaped, and opened to the public. The reaction was staggering - 368,544 persons visited the six houses. (In all, 24 houses were built in the Los Angeles area between 1948 and 1962.)
The critical success of the houses removed more than one stumbling block in the way of public acceptance of experimental design. Building departments became more lenient; banks began to finance contemporary houses....
(Building practices across America during the 1950s and 1960s were influenced by the case study houses. Open floor plans, incorporation of materials such as plywood and plastic, built-in storage facilities, flat roofs, skylights, and steel framing are all legacies of the program.)
BY 1962, it had become clear that the battle for housing had been won by the developers, with more drafting services involved than architects. Housing was a gigantic industry, and the cost of land and construction was of greater concern to the builders than good environment. Only one case study house architect designed prototypes for a developer - A.Quincy Jones planned tracts for Eichler Homes which were models of good land planning and design....
By 1960, the custom-built, family, small house was being priced out of existence. The case study house was a social program; it essentially ended when the house became a luxury.
In June of 1989, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles will present a major exhibition, ``Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses.'' Included will be two full-scale, walk-through reconstructions of original case houses. A reduced version of the exhibit will travel to other museums in the U.S. and Canada.