Case Study House Program

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Bay Area Architects’ Designs for the

Case Study House Program, 1949 – 1963

Case Study House Architects

The Case Study House Program: Origins, Meanings, And Protagonists

By Pierluigi Serraino

The Case Study House program and the magazine Arts and Architecture are two inseparable twins in the historical narratives of California Modernism in its post-war phase. Common denominator of both was John Entenza (1905-1984), as editor from 1940 to 1962 of the magazine California Arts and Architecture, a title he changed in 1945 to Arts and Architecture, gave an international manner — both in terms of its compellingly lanky graphics and its cerebral content — to what had been mostly a regional periodical of limited distribution. Both the magazine and the Case Study House Program he masterminded hinged upon the recognition that the architecture of his time was rooted in technology, a symbolic source of its outer expression in the public realm. 

The long span, steel, joinery, plywood, modularity, open plan, car mobility, aluminum, and glazing systems, were the tools and the lexicon of the post-war architect and the citizen of a technological society. For Entenza, the environmental habitat of California had to arise from the civilian application of the radical innovations in mechanical systems, new materials, and building science advancements gained during the World War II, especially because of the military industry’s major presence in California.

The Case Study House program started as Entenza’s personal project, partially financed through his own resources, that lasted two decades. This initiative was the game-changer in the authoritative aura that California Modernism acquired worldwide. Entenza led the program from 1945 to 1962 till he moved to Chicago to head the Graham Foundation. David Travers continued it from 1962 until its end in 1966. They both handpicked the architects that were going to be included in the program, absent of a truly objective criteria or checklist. While Entenza wrote the program’s manifesto himself and published it, the houses and architects chosen for inclusion are an eclectic mix of design expressions.

On the Participation of Northern California Architects to the Case Study House Program

By Pierluigi Serraino

While most of the built (and unbuilt) residential projects of the Case Study House program are located in Southern California, the design community behind this renown cultural initiative is far from regional. In fact, the roaster of architects Entenza and Travers selected during their respective tenure offers a revealing picture of both the composite nature of signatures called to fulfill the promises of the January 1st , 1945, manifesto and of what flavor of modernism was being disseminated for the post-war home.

Some household names are from California- William Wurster from Stockton, Ray Kaiser from Sacramento, Pierre Koenig from San Francisco- as well as some lesser-known, such as Ed Killingsworth. John Rex, Worley Wong, and Calvin Straub, among others. A sizeable group of CSH architects was from out of state and had a cultural connection with the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, the legendary design school founded by Eliel Saarinen. From that milieu, the list is truly impressive: Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Ralph Rapson, Don Knorr. Others were from other parts of the country and landed either for family reasons or for college to Southern California. Additionally, others

came from Europe, most notably Richard Neutra from Vienna, Julius Ralph Davidson from Berlin, and Raphael Soriano from Rhodes, Greece. In this eclectic mix, various gradations of common themes- relationship with WWII technology, and material, open planning, one-level single-family homes, and an overall permeable relationship between indoor and outdoor, found specific manifestations in the talent of these creatives. These prototypes for living were conceived as models to shape much of post-war living for present and future generations.

Four teams of Bay Area architects were involved in the CSH Program. Under the Entenza’s era, there was the now-demolished CSH #3 in Los Angeles designed and built in 1945 by William Wurster and Theodore Bernardi and the unbuilt CSH #18 by Don Knorr for a site in the San Francisco South Bay in 1957. During the Traver’s lead, Beverley David Thorne’s CSH #26 was realized in 1962 in San Rafael, whereas CSH #27 by Campbell & Wong, in association with Don Allen Fong, of 1963 for a site in Smoke Rise, New Jersey, remained on paper. These Bay Area contributions have been intermittently acknowledged in the publications surrounding this one-of-a-kind initiative.

Yet, they provide documentary evidence of the commitment of the local community of designers to offering updated architectural propositions consistent with the changing needs of the California, and American, post-war society.