Case Study Houses: Guidelines for the average American home 06.05.20

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 Pierre Koenigs Case Study House 21. Photo by Niels Wouters via WikimediaPierre Koenigs Case Study House 21. Photo by Niels Wouters via Wikimedia

Comprising 36 prototype houses by famous architects, the Case Study House programme looked at new models for the average American home

The Case Study Houses programme ran in the US, between 1945 and 1966. It was part of a study into economical and easy-to-build dwellings. It led to the creation of 36 prototype homes.

The programme was sponsored by the US-based Arts & Architecture magazine, and was initiated by it’s editor John Entenza. The most famous architects of the time were commissioned to take part, including Charles & Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Pierre Koenig, Craig Ellwood, Rodney Walker and Richard Neutra. 

The programme’s purpose was to come up with new notions for the modern house and its functional requirements. Designers were asked to create houses that would be affordable and easy-to-replicate. The experiment aimed to question pre-existing understandings of what a house was and what it needed, looking at the needs of contemorary living and the behaviours of families.

Case Study House No. 1 designed by J. R. Davidson in 1948. Photo by Junkyardsparkle via WikimediaCase Study House No. 1 designed by J. R. Davidson in 1948. Photo by Junkyardsparkle via Wikimedia

Many of the Case Study Houses used open floor plans and multi-functional rooms, which quickly became the standard for modern houses. Many architects focused on the connection between indoor and outdoor.

Popular materials included cement, plywood and industrial glass, which kept the cost of the houses down and could be easily maintained and replaced. Natural light was a common feature, with large windows also allowing air to flow. 

Predominantly modular in design, the houses could be constructed quickly from pre-manufactured elements. 

Case Study House 22. Photo by Mbtrama via FlickrCase Study House 22. Photo by Mbtrama via Flickr

Here is a closer look at just a few of the houses. 

Designed by JR Davidson, the 11th Case Study House followed modernist principles. It had clean, horizontal lines, an open floor plan, and an easy flow between internal and external spaces. The house was neat and small, and in many ways more basic than some of the other designs that were put forward. It was, however, closer to what could be considered an average American home.

Case Study House 10 was designed by Kemper Nomland & Kemper Nomland Jr and was only officially added to the programme after its completion in 1947. It was selected to because of its innovative use of materials, new techniques, and simplicity in style. It was different in one particular way to the others: it was designed for a couple rather than for a family with children.

The Eames House, as Case Study House 8 was known, is one of the landmarks of mid-20th century modern architecture in the US. Built as a private home by Charles and Ray Eames in 1949, the house became an icon. Its exterior reflecting Charles’s design philosophies, while its eclectic interior and decor were very much a reflection of Ray’s taste. The house was designed around the needs of the young couple amd tucked into a slope that overlooked a meadow. It had a mezzanine floor, accessed by a prefabricated spiral staircase. The facade was a mix of transparent glass and coloured panels to control the levels of natural light. The design encouraged indoor-outdoor living. The house was furnished with the Eameses’s own designs and with objects collected on their travels. 

Eames House. Photo by Gunnar Klack via FlickrEames House. Photo by Gunnar Klack via Flickr

Read more: The Eames duo were more than just their classic chairs

Charles Eames also collaborated on the design of Case Study House 9 with Eero Saarinen. This house was built for John Entenza himself. It also had a steel frame with open, adaptable internal spaces, but was designed in a more horizontal manner than the Eames House. The living area had four different tiers, with steps that could be used as informal seating. Entenza lived in the house for five years before he sold it. 

Craig Ellwood’s Case Study House 18 was a prefab house with a simple rectangular, minimal design. It had a blue steel frame and off-white ceiling and roof panels. Also known as the Fields House, this was one of the most popular houses in the programme.

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