The Case Study Houses were and are an illustration of modernism’s intended audience—the masses. These homes were intended to change the way we look at residential design and forever alter the way we live. Built or unfinished, preserved or lost, join us as we take a closer look at each of the iconic designs that carry the name “Case Study House.” Read about #1 here.
Case Study Houses 101
Looking ahead to a post-war building boom, the editor of Arts & Architecture magazine began an innovative program to create eight houses by eight nationally known architects—including Richard Neutra, Eero Saarinen, and Charles Eames—each to tackle a specific living problem.
Without the restrictions of war, designs were to be focused on new materials and construction techniques for these “contemporary dwelling units”. Though not all houses were built, the program spanned from 1945-1966, and included 36 designs located mainly in the Southern California area. With the intent to be accessible for the average family, the houses were designated a budget (subject to price fluctuation) and had to be easily duplicated.
Meet House #2
Completed in 1947, the second Case Study House was built to suit the everyday life and entertainment needs of a small family looking to utilize indoor and outdoor areas year-round in Arcadia, California. Exceeding the challenge, American architects Sumner Spaulding and John Rex’s design for Case Study House #2 is a stunning example of continuity, efficiency, and aesthetics—down to the very last detail.
A brick serpentine wall dividing the motor court from living terrace provides a playful contrast to the otherwise straight lines seen throughout the house. The dramatic exterior is illuminated by built-in flush lights under each overhang, arranged to reduce night-time reflections on the many glass windows and doors.
With two high walls, the south-facing outdoor area provides shelter in the winter but allows a ‘summer sunning’ area—while the existing trees on the northern dining terrace provide shade. The children even have their own yard on the East side and all three outdoor areas were built with a wider overhang to “… cut the summer heat while admitting the longer rays of the winter sun,” Arts & Architecture magazine states. Dark-stained concrete was utilized to reduce glare and provide a sense of continuity when stepping out from the black asphalt tiled interior floors.
The over-arching use of continuity further provides the open feeling of indoor-outdoor living originally requested of the layout. “The general plan of the house achieves a feeling of spaciousness and flexibility. The dark stained terraces stepping out from the black asphalt floors; the plastered ceilings picked up by the plastered underside of the overhang, and the long wall pulling the inside outward, all tend to increase room sizes,” states the original publication from Arts & Architecture.
Large louvered windows were utilized to provide even more flexibility and connection to the outdoor areas. Because so many translucent panes and large clear glass windows were used in place of solid walls, floor-length drapes can be pulled shut or opened according to the family’s needs.
When Form Meets Function
Similar to Case Study House #1, built-in features were used heavily in this design to maximize efficiency and ease of living. Birch plywood panels near the fireplace conceal a radio-phonograph while the south-side of the living area allows storage for books, records, and gaming equipment. The “U” shaped kitchen is equipped with dual-functioning features, recessed storage nooks, and hidden boards that allow more area for cooking.
Case Study House #2 Today:
Though the house is still intact on Chapea Road, Case Study House #2 is not on the National Registry of Historic places like 10 of the other houses in the program, though it’s unclear why it wasn’t nominated. According to the LA Conservancy, some of the Case Study houses already had a preservation protection, while others were not included in the nomination due to alterations or demolition.