John Entanza, editor of the architecture magazine Arts & Architecture, initiated the Case Study House Program in 1945. As the introduction to the book outlines, Entanza saw the programme as a way to 'offer the public and the building industry models for low-cost housing in the modern idiom, foreseeing the coming building boom as inevitable in the wake of the drastic housing shortages during the depression and war years'. His goal was to enable architects to design and build low-cost modern houses for actual clients, using donated materials from industry and manufacturers. Entanza's programme was unique in many respects. Firstly, in that an architecture magazine explicitly chose to broaden its role from that of sideline commenting to one of initiating a building programme. Magazines often instigated design competitions, but actual construction was a rarity. With his programme Entanza was in fact starting a form of total architecture promotion covering design, construction and publicising, thereby extending his mandate from reflecting on building to actual involvement in building. Examples of such active involvement were limited to those occasions when an editor commissioned an architect to design a house. Jean Badovici, for example, commissioned Eileen Gray and then published the resulting Villa E10127 in his magazine L'Architecture Vivante.
It is also remarkable, to say the very least, that Entanza's programme actually produced results for such a long period, from 1945 to 1966. During that time 36 different CSH's were designed by an array of architects that included Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra, Eero Saarinen, Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig. No fewer than 24 of these were also built. And when setbacks occurred in the process, Entanza himself wasn't afraid to act as client (for a design by Eames and Saarinen). Charles and Ray Eames, for that matter, ensured that the programme got off to a flying start by building and living in one of the early CSH projects (No. 8).
Ultimately the programme spawned a distinct architectural language, which can be summed up as light architecture in an optimistic, modernist style. Yet little was to come of the aim of generating prototypes that could later be industrially produced on a large scale. But the style and construction methods (predominantly light steel structures, plenty of glass, industrially produced components) were to exert an influence on later West Coast architecture.
The book documents all the projects extensively, and that alone is worthy of praise. The compilers have also not been shy with photographs and drawings. In that sense, the book is also a tribute to Julius Shulman, the house photographer for Arts & Architecture. He took photographs of 15 of the 24 completed buildings, including the famous image of Pierre Koenig's House No. 22 featuring a night-time view of Los Angeles. Many of these pictures are included in the book. Interestingly, in his brief epilogue Shulman contends that the programme failed in its objective of finding solutions for low-cost housing. He has a point, no doubt, and it's a minor blemish on what was otherwise an exemplary programme of architectural innovation. But it's something we enthusiasts don't want to hear.
A beautiful series of houses, beautifully photographed and drawn, and brought together in an exemplary publication.