About the case study house program

In January 1945 John Entenza, the editor and publisher of Arts & Architecture magazine, announced the Case Study House Program (CSHP). The program was envisioned as a creative response to the impending building boom expected to follow the housing shortages of the Great Depressionand World War II. Entenza encouraged participating architects to use donated materials from industry and manufacturers to create low-cost, modern housing prototypes that might foster a dialogue between architectural professionals and laymen.

The highly publicized program ran from 1945 to 1964, spanning thirty-six individual designs, many of which were never constructed. The initial program announcement stated that “each house must be capable of duplication and in no sense be an individual performance” and that “the overall program will be general enough to be of practical assistance to the average American in search of a home in which he can afford to live.”

After returning from four years of fighting in WWII, Pierre Koenig was introduced to the CSHP through the ongoing publication of the avant-gardedesigns in Arts & Architecture magazine. By 1948 Koenig’s interest in modern architecture led him to transfer from Pasadena City College to the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California where he studied under Richard Neutra and Gregory Ain. In 1950, while enrolled at USC, Koenig designed and built his first steel-framed house for himself and his family.

Koenig’s first involvement with the Case Study House Program occurred while working in the office of Raphael Soriano on the Case Study House 1950 project. In 1956 he worked briefly with Archibald Quincy Jones on a steel house in San Mateo, California for the prominent property developer Joseph Eichler. Eichler and John Entenza were well acquainted and both were developing a keen interest in the potential of lightweightsteel construction for residential architecture.

Koenig’s hands-on experience with steel construction and his mastery of the new arc welding process on the San Mateo house would prove influential for the rest of his architectural career. Entenza saw great potential in Koenig’s design work of the time and offered him a tentative invitation to participate in the CSHP when he “found the right house and the right client.” This period marked the beginning of what historian Esther McCoy would later identify as the second phase of the Case Study House Program, represented by “a concerted effort… to bring architecture into relationship with the machine.”


about the house

In describing his concept for Case Study House #21, Koenig stated "I was trying to develop" 1,300 square feet (120 m2) "in an efficient, social, and exciting plan that people could afford… I had thrown out all conventional thought because I had no patience with anything that had been done before." The Case Study program called for the design of mass-producible prototypes and Koenig appears to have accomplished this while adequately addressing site-specific factors.

CSH #21 is arranged along a North-South axis with a carport on the North side and a fully glazed South side to take advantage of the best view and maximum sunlight for winter months. Koenig opted for a compressed ‘L’ shaped plan to establish a linear progression from the carport and entry through the living space and out to the garden. This compression is achieved by opaque, steel decking walls blocking the unattractive views towards the “scrubby hillside” on the West and Wonderland Park Avenue on the East.

The main house is a 30’ x 44’ rectangular plan with a solid rectangular core housing the utilities – two full bathrooms and a mechanical room. Beyond this core lay two efficiently arranged bedrooms. The threshold through this interior courtyard/core provides increased privacy (visually and acoustically) for the bedrooms. By designing a central service core Koenig simplified the language of the perimeter condition to either standard sized sliding glass doors or opaque steel walls. The simplicity of the material vocabulary is what John Entenza found most appealing. When first visiting the house he described it as “a very pristine, clean design. Two details, one north-south, one east-west. One material for the roof, same one for the walls. Minimal house, maximum space.”

 

 

The steel framing system of the house is composed of four prefabricated steel bents 44’ wide x 9’ high, forming the interior of the house. In addition, three half-span bents are used to frame the covered carport. It is interesting to note that Koenig specified identical structure to the houses he worked on with Soriano and Jones – 8” I-section beams and 4” H-section columns. Rather than use a standardized 8’ dimension, Koenig opted for a 10’ spacing between bents for economy and to streamline the overall structure. Koenig frequently stated, “Steel is only as good as its detailing. In order to make exposed steel acceptable in the living room it must be so well detailed that the joining connections are imperceptible.”

Indicative of the changing context, the property is now surrounded by tall trees and shrubbery, replacing what was once a grand view to the south. This is clearly an adaptation to achieve greater privacy within the now densely populated Hollywood Hills canyon. As an article in House Beautiful magazine described, today “the building’s defiant simplicity stands in stark contrast to the fussy over-scaled residences that sit high on the hills behind it.”