The most replicated photograph in architectural history and its impact on a Case Study House, by Steve Parnell
For the 21 years of The Case Study House Program (see Back Issues, AJ 17.01.08), Arts & Architecture magazine sported stylishly designed covers of which Hanna-Barbera would have been proud. Works of art in themselves, rarely did these covers carry photographs and they bore little, if any, resemblance to the contents of the magazines.
During this period, photographer Julius Shulman captured 15 of the Case Study houses, including Pierre Koenig’s Number 22 (the Stahl House), published in Arts & Architecture in June 1960. On page 17 (pictured bottom left) – in the middle of eight pages of description, 16 black-and-white photos and a plan – sits the unpopulated version of one of the most reproduced of all modern architectural photographs: Shulman’s ‘Two Girls’.
Interestingly, Arts & Architecture editor John Entenza decided to publish the version without the girls sitting in the living room, happily enveloped within the full-height glazing but daringly cantilevered over the street lights that recede into the Los Angeles night. Instead the caption prosaically states: ‘Dramatic study of cantilevered concrete beams supporting slab and steel frame’. In fact, of all the photographs in the feature only the title page is populated, with two people relaxing in the mid-distance on the breathtaking terrace (pictured above left).
Koenig’s house is certainly a victory for domestically-applied industrial technologies, responding perfectly to its setting in time and place. Nevertheless, would it have receded into obscurity like most of the other Case Study houses had Shulman not captured this award-winning and ceaselessly reprinted photograph? For a more complete history, see Pierluigi Serraino’s ‘Framing Icons’ chapter in Kester Rattenbury’s This is not Architecture.
It is ironic that the Case Study houses, intended to provide inexpensive, replicable prototypes, were ultimately never reproduced, while the accompanying photographs have become some of the most replicated architectural imagery of the 20th century.