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Los Angeles is full of fantastic residential architecture in styles, from Spanish Colonial Revival to Streamline Moderne. But the modernist Case Study Houses, sponsored by Arts & Architecture and designed between the 1940s and 1960s, are both native to Southern California and particularly emblematic of the region.
The houses were intended to be relatively affordable, replicable houses for post-World War II family living, with an emphasis on “new materials and new techniques in house construction,” as the magazine's program intro put it. Architects involved included Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra, and Pierre Koenig.
The main inspiration of the thirty six houses designed for the program, was the desire of a generation of architects to realize affordable and modern houses to satisfy the post war building boom. Even though many of the designs were never built, the program proved, thanks to its success, that it was possible to realize affordable houses for residential uses.
John Entenza was the mind and the force behind the Arts and Architecture magazine and the Case Study Houses Program. Thanks to it, he wanted to offer a solution, both to the building industry and to the public, to the post World War lack of residences; proposing designs for affordable and modern houses.
The magazine was the vehicle through which Entenza promoted the designs and connected actual clients with the architects. Already before the end of the war, Entenza hosted competitions for small house designs in the magazine anticipating and exploring the interest of the architects in the matter of building affordable residential houses.
Considering his interest in the architecture related fields of design, visual arts and music, Arts and Architecture was the natural place to gather the social and artistic concerns behind a project as the Case Study Houses Program.
Some of the architects joining the program were already internationally well-known as Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames or Craig Ellwood, others, as Whitney R. Smith, Thornton Abell, and Rodney Walker, were mainly locally known and all of them represented a personal Entenza preference instead of a comprehensive overview of the American Mid-Century architects and their approach to the low-cost houses building.
Some of the designs were never built, as the Richard Neutra ’Omega’ and ‘Alpha’ houses or the Whitney Smith’s ‘Loggia’ House, due to an actual lack of clients and sites. However, the ones built were in some cases greatly diverting from the original architects design due to the shortage of some materials or specific clients’ requests.
Two of the most famous case study houses, are the one that Entenza commissioned to Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen for himself, Case Study House #9 and the one that Charles and Ray Eames designed and built for themselves, #8. The Eameses house was one of the ones delayed due the post war scarcity of materials. The house was in fact first designed in 1945 but completed it in the 1949.
The Eames 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 clear, translucent, or wired glass, painted or natural gray Cemesto panels, off-white, black, blue, and orange/red stucco, silver or painted aluminum, and specially-treated panels in gold-leafed or photographic.
After the success achieved during the first part of the program, many other Case Study Houses were built in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Thousand Oaks, and La Jolla for clients enthusiasts about the Mid-Century Modern architecture. The program even began to be part of apartments design projects.
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