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by Nate Eudaly // courtesy of COLUMNS magazine

The Case Study Houses Program (1945-1966) was an innovative and unique development in the
history of American architecture and it remains so to this day. The program, focused
in the greater Los Angeles area, created designs for thirty-six prototype houses. It also sought to
make those house plans available so they could be easily constructed during the building
boom that followed World War II. The program’s main driving force was John Entenza, editor of the
cutting-edge magazine, Arts & Architecture. Entenza, a champion of modernism,
had the connections to attract architects such as Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, and Eero
Saarinen to participate in the program. Their highly experimental designs, both
built and unbuilt, redefined the modern home and continue to influence architects—both in America
and internationally. Entenza’s vision for the program was to offer the public and
the building industry models for low-cost housing in a modern architectural “language.” He foresaw an
inevitable building boom in the wake of drastic housing shortages created during
the depression and ensuing war years.
Using the magazine to reach potential clients, and using donated materials whenever possible,
Entenza promoted the program in his monthly magazine. Prior to the program’s official beginning in
1945, Entenza had sponsored competitions in the magazine for small house designs, providing a
greater awareness for such designs. His focused and consistent emphasis on modernism, in
architecture as well as in design and literature, made Arts & Architecture a well-suited forum for the
promotion of what became the Case Study Houses Program. Entenza capitalized on this era in which
social and artistic concerns combined to create a new and innovative body of work of historical
importance. Elizabeth Smith, in her definitive book, Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH
Program, 1945-1966, documented that participants in the program included well established
architects with international reputations as well as those previously known only in the Los Angeles
area. Her extensive research for that book provided much of the source material for this article. Well
known architects participating
in the program included the previously referenced Neutra, Eames, and Saarinen, as
well as others including Craig Elwood and Pierre Koenig.
Those primarily known only in L.A. until catapulted to greater recognition by their Case Study designs
included Whitney Smith, Thornton  Abell, and Rodney Walker. Entenza personally invited all
participants, based on his judgment of their ability to make key, innovative contributions to the
program. Thus, the program is in many regards a subjective roster
of Entenza’s choices rather than a comprehensive overview of architects in practice during the time
period. Architects including R. M. Schindler, Harwell Harris, and John Lautner did
not participate in the program as Entenza did not include them in his selected roster of architects for
the CSH Program. Many of the early conceptual projects, such as Neutra’s
“Alpha” and “Omega” houses were never built due to lack of actual clients and sites. Many of the built
projects had major differences in final design and materials due to building material shortages in the
post-war years. At times, to continue the progression of the Case Study Houses, Entenza and
architects such as Charles and Ray Eames also became clients
of the program. As the program evolved, materials used in construction became more experimental
due to advances in technology and availability. Due to these advances,
as well as economic pros-perity in the 1950s, more projects were actually realized in an
expanding geography including Long Beach, Thousand Oaks, and La Jolla for affluent clients. Toward
the end of the program, fewer designs were unbuilt and the program
was expanded to include some tract housing and apartments.
Today, the term “case study houses” almost has a generic implication of modestly designed and
constructed modern architecture. However, the actual program covered a wide range
of design sensibilities in cost, scope, and materials. Some of the program’s best known homes
by Eames, Ellwood, and Koenig are similar in many regards to the spirit of International Style
modernism, using industrial construction methods and materials for residential projects. However, a
substantial portion of the case study houses involved more traditional, though
still modern, residential construction. Architects designing in this style included Thornton Abell, Julius
Ralph Davidson, Richard Neutra, Rodney Walker, and the firms of Bluff, Straub & Hensman, and
Killingsworth, Brady & Smith. The Case Study Houses Program ended in 1966 when Arts & Architecture
ceased publication. The program had become almost iconic for many architects by this time. Reyner
Banham, in his article for the Blueprints for Modern Living publication, credits the CSH program as being
a driving factor in the development of the High Tech style. A great number of architects in practice today
continue to draw inspiration from the spirit of the CSH program. This innovative program, and the
designs it produced, both built and unbuilt, serve as key building blocks for the design of many of the
most highly-acclaimed contemporary residences being constructed today. For that, we will continue to
owe the
Case Study Houses Program a debt of gratitude.

Nate Eudaly is executive director of the
Dallas Architecture Forum.
Elizabeth Smith, author of the Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH
Program, lectured in Dallas on February 19, 2009.

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