the enduring legacy and influence of the casestudy house program in the united states on residential design is remarkable given thatit was essentially a regional architecture movement centered in southern california. in part as a response to the post-war worldwar ii housing shortage and building boom, arts & architecture magazine announced thecase study house program in january of 1945. the editor at the time, john entenza, handpickeda select group of architects to design and construct homes that were affordable, modernand efficient. entenza wrote in the program's announcementthat the houses were required to be quote, "conceived within the spirit of our times,using as far as is practicable, many war-born
techniques and materials best suited to theexpression of man's life in the modern world." in other words, the houses were to be devisedto disseminate modernist ideas and design culture on a mass scale. despite the fact that so few were built, manyof the case study homes and the ideas they inspired persist today, including the eameshouse shown here, designed by charles and ray eames in 1949. the homes reflected post-war attitudes towardreinvention and social awareness. they helped to define the style of mid-centurymodernism but they were much more than style. the open floor plans that the homes imagineddecades ago are still seen today.
they offered a new way of thinking about spaceand made modern design available and approachable for all. their budgets were modest, which meant theyhad to employ off-the-shelf, standardized materials, and they were small in scale. open plans blurred lines between inside andout and a simple, honest use of materials were key to their economy. here are seven enduring lessons the case-studyhouse program offered and a call-to-action for architects to consider developing theirown case-study homes. lesson 1: case study homes as teaching toolsfor the value of architecture.
few of the original case study homes wereactually built, but the ones that were became immensely popular. the first six were toured by more than 368,000people in 1946 and 1947. people were eager to experience the designs. architects often rely on technical, abstractlanguage and drawings that most have a hard time interpreting to describe space. these instruments don't accurately portraythe physical reality of architecture in a way that a case-study home would. for example, a reverse living concept, suchas the one employed in this home, may make
implicit sense to an architect when visitinga particular site, but for a client to experience the building describes the concept in realterms. the benefits of lifting the living plane abovestreet level is made explicit here. lesson 2: real solutions to real problems. just as the housing shortage provided theimpetus for the case study house program in 1945, the lack of affordable real estate,density restrictions and underdeveloped housing stocks are problems affecting our communitiestoday. solving these difficult problems inherentlytakes more creative horsepower and consequently more design fee.
a case study house can propose adaptable solutionsto common needs and model designs sold to many effectively amortizing the design costsover a larger client base. frequently, the only properties that are affordablefor the average individual or family are the ones with the most latent liabilities. sites that require special permitting, alternativeconstruction procedures or those that are bound by development restrictions are viewedas intractable problems to most. infill housing schemes and accessory dwellingunit concepts designed by architects, especially in urban areas, are two areas where the casestudy home could effect positive change. lesson 3: the value of financial skin in thegame.
arts & architecture magazine initially agreedto commission the homes for the case study program, however due to a lack of funds thefunding burden fell to each architect charging them with the task of finding suitable clients-- of which john entenza was one. borrowing from this model, it's entirely possibleto solicit buy-in from interested clients or a personal need for a home by an architectto fund a case study model home. there's no substitute for the hard evidenceand real-world current cost feedback that construction provides. a personal financial commitment to a projectis a strong motivator too. understanding the real cost of systems andconstruction incentivizes invention rather
than a reliance on - potentially more expensive- common practice and conventional details. having some skin in the game shows futureclients you believe in the product too. lesson 4: regional prototypes for mass production. even though this was an integral part of thea+a's design brief, the case study house program never delivered on the goal of mass production. due in part to a shortage of building materialsafter the war and increasing opposition from builders eager to meet consumer demand forhousing but unwilling to adopt unconventional residential building practices. glazed walls, limited insulation and seamlessto the outdoor environment was another barrier
to wider adoption; it was a hard concept torationalize in many less-temperate parts of the us. yet the case study ideas persist to this dayin moderate climates because they work well; they're comfortable. the regional case study is an interestingidea that could be applied to a localized mass production or prefab facility. imagine architects intimately familiar withtheir regional climate bringing those hard-won lessons to bear on the problem of modern housingneeds. case study homes could achieve wide regionalacceptance if their prototypes were as well-suited
to their climate as the southern californianmodernists' designs were. lesson 5: product versus process. the case study houses were built to be touredand experienced by people. although the reality of the program was suchthat the houses were one-off constructions, the intent was that they were to be examples,full-scale mock-ups - products. the notion of architecture as product is rejectedby many architects because it's antithetical to the approach most of us rely on in oureveryday practice: the design process. yet, increasingly, this process is only affordableto a select few. it's part of the reason architects are commissionedto work on fewer than 1% of the new homes
constructed today in the us. the process of design we rely on isn't readilyreducible to a set of known outcomes and it's not linear. information is gathered and synthesized byan individual's (or firm's) personal design process. it takes courage for a client to agree toan unfamiliar process and an implicit trust that their architect will deliver on theirpromise. contrast this with the eminently familiaract of buying a product. with a case study house, the consumer canview (even experience) the product, understand
the cost and quickly make a value judgment. either the perceived value is there or itisn't. products can build-in profitability for theprofessional and affordability for the client. eliminating the stressful sequence of biddingand price negotiation has benefits for both parties. for the client it ties decisions to real costs. the architect can capitalize on their ownefficiencies, investing in the design and receive a royalty each time the design issold. profit can be built-into the product and onceit's created there's no inventory to store
or maintain. if changes or customizations are requiredthey can be performed at a fixed hourly rate, again with integrated profit margins. quibbling over invoices can be a thing ofthe past with a product model. and, there's no finger-pointing when bidscome in high because the costs are known from the outset. lesson 6: the perfect versus the good. custom, one-off bespoke commissions are prizedby any architect. who would argue if asked to tailor every squareinch of a home to a specific client's need?
although case study homes forfeit some customizationi would argue that it actually makes a home more marketable. the less owner-specific a home is the morepeople it can accommodate in the future. giving up a high level of customization helpskeep the budget in line too. we can't let our struggle for the perfectbe the enemy of the good. design isn't a zero-sum game, with the effortsof architects and the benefits of design conferred to only certain problems. thoughtful architecture can address the problemsfacing a wider spectrum of the population. case study homes can be explored for affordablebut less than perfect sites.
who better than to solve these problems thanarchitects? lesson 7: an ethos of experimentation. most admirably, the case study house programembraced an ethos of experimentation. the designs reflected a willingness to stepaway from traditional notions of home and try new things. some were successful - the open plan stillexists today - while others weren't. the things that didn't work, steel framingfor example, told us something about the world and our acceptance of new building technologiesin the home. to experiment with new living arrangements,novel materials, or more efficient ways of
constructing common details is rewarding. when it goes right, the spoils can be incorporatedinto future production processes and the finished product offers convincing proof. when it goes wrong you know which directionto pivot. either way you've learned something in theprocess. when we choose to educate, making our dailywork an instructive case study for all to learn from, we can all benefit. in this way, architecture can deliver on thepromise of relevant, affordable housing solutions