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Back Issues - Case Study House Program

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Back Issues - What happens when the architectural press is your client? Steve Parnell revisits The Case Study House Program.

The dawn of a new year makes anything seem possible. In January 1945, John Entenza, the ambitious editor of a smalltime Californian magazine called Arts & Architecture, conceived and announced The Case Study House Program, which set out to ‘begin immediately the study, planning, actual design and construction of eight houses, each to fulfil the specifications of a special living problem in the Southern California area’.

There was never a better example of the architectural press directing, rather than simply reflecting, the shape of the built environment. Acting as client, the magazine commissioned top US architects to design eight houses that would become inexpensive, replicable prototypes, demonstrating how good modern design, manufacturing methods and materials could help ameliorate the anticipated deficiencies in post-war housing.

The houses would be built, furnished and temporarily opened to the public as showhouses, before being occupied. Of course, they would also be published in the pages of Arts & Architecture alongside carefully chosen complementary advertisers such as Herman Miller, Architectural Pottery and Knoll, which furnished the houses.

Like all great editors, Entenza was a lightning rod for attracting talent. Architects contributing to the program included Eero Saarinen, Richard Neutra, Charles Eames, Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig among others. Incidentally, Arts & Architecture was also the first to publish Paul Rudolph, Harry Seidler and Frank Gehry.

The Case Study House Program was so successful that 36 houses were eventually commissioned and published, with 24 being built over 21 years, including the Eames House and Entenza’s own house on adjacent plots (numbers 8 and 9, published December 1945, May 1949 and July 1950). But few, if any, of the houses were replicated. What the programme ultimately delivered was a beautiful set of stylised drawings and photographs forming an influential chunk of the post-war Modernist architectural canon.

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