Seven enduring lessons from the mid-century modern case study house program and a call-to-action for architects to consider developing their own case-study homes.
The influence of the Case Study House Program in the United States on residential design is remarkable given that it was essentially a regional architecture movement centered in Southern California. In part as a response to the post-war World War II housing shortage and building boom - the now defunct - Arts & Architecture magazine announced the “Case Study House Program” in January of 1945. The editor at the time, John Entenza, handpicked a select group of architects to design and construct homes that were affordable, modern and efficient.
Entenza wrote in the program’s announcement that the houses were required to be quote, “conceived within the spirit of our times, 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,” end quote. In other words the houses were to be devised to disseminate modernist ideas and design culture on a mass scale.
Despite the fact that so few were built, many of the case study homes and the ideas they inspired persist today, including the Eames House shown here, designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1949. The homes reflected post-war attitudes toward reinvention and social awareness. They helped to define the style of mid-century modernism but they were much more than style.
The open floor plans that the homes imagined decades ago are still seen today. They offered a new way of thinking about space and made modern design available and approachable for all. Their budgets were modest, which meant they had to employ off-the-shelf, standardized materials, and they were small in scale. Open plans blurred lines between inside and out and a simple, honest use of materials were key to their economy.
This video is an in-depth look at how contemporary architects might employ the case study house as a means to improve our built-environment.
Architects featured in this video:
Charles & Ray Eames
The Raliegh Architecture Company
McIntosh Poris Associates
30X40 Design Workshop
Lake Flato Architects
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