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.” In this installment we look at Case Study House #6.
Meet House #6
Designed by Richard Neutra and introduced in the October 1945 issue of Arts & Architecture, the home was actually planned with a “companion house” in an adjacent lot (Case Study House #13), both unbuilt. The designs were created for two hypothetical families—brothers-in-law that were married to sisters—Mr. and Mrs. Alpha and Mr. and Mrs. Omega.
While the Omega and Alpha houses were designed as companion houses, the concepts had similar features but were very much unique. “An individual house can here be made an harmonious note in a well developed ensemble, and still it may retain much of its own merit even when repeated elsewhere,” states the original article. We’ll be exploring the “Omega” house here and will dive into the “Alpha” home when we get to Case Study House #13.
Case Study House #6 Courtyards
Taking advantage of the Southern California sunshine, the cruciform shape of the Omega house allowed for four outdoor courtyards, each one serving a different function. A well-landscaped “entrance court” allowed for homeowner privacy and a quiet yet impressive approach for guests. The “social court” was primarily intended for adults and included an outdoor cooking area. “The large semi-exterior fireplace with oven, barbeque at its side, and adjoining sitting bench is constructed of flagstone, with split machine brick used for the fire opening.”
Over in the “sports court,” all ages can get some fresh air while relaxing or playing games. The Omegas hope to add a pool later on, but until then, “the ‘water hole’ with its hose-spray and ‘sunning beach’ will do well.” The “practical operations court” was meant to serve as an all-purpose area for deliveries and laundry, plus a small outdoor area within view of the kitchen.
Characteristic of Neutra’s work, the Omega house was planned with a gently sloping flat roof and overhanging projections. Flagstone was to be used for much of the outdoor areas, including the entrance walk and patio. On the interior, plenty of built-ins were included, from a spacious sitting corner to a music bay and a “visual and acoustical appliance cabinet.” The location of functional areas was well-thought in order to reduce house-dirtying. A children’s wash area and bathroom was placed near the “water hole” so the kids could easily clean up without traipsing through the rest of the home. And the utility closet was centrally located to provide hot water for bathrooms, sinks and radiant floor heating.
In Neutra’s Own Words
A rendering of the 4 elevation angles of Case Study House #6 shows’ the homes unique profile. While most of us would refer to this as a “gently sloping roof,” Neutra explains in detail why he calls it “flat.”
“We must understand each other. ‘Flat’ seems to have two meanings. When people talk of a flat roof they often mean one thing, while I probably mean another. You see, ‘flat’ may mean horizontal. But to follow me more easily, think of it first as ‘without relief or prominence’, as Webster also says. In other words, no plastic, three dimensional protrusion—but the whole thing being simply with one single plane! A pancake could be tilted to any angle, yet it is still flat, isn’t it?”
“Surely,”said Mrs. Omega.
“Well then, most of the time I have used flat roofs, some of them with a smaller angle, some of them with a steeper tilt to the level horizon. As a matter of fact, however strange it may appear to you, a little pitch permits me to make that roof entirely and mathematically speaking, fully flat in my sense of the word. It will also drain the water naturally in only one direction, into one gutter, or onto one dripping eave
Though the Omega house was never realized, it was an innovative design for the time and truly took advantage of indoor-outdoor living, functional efficiency and beautiful lines.