“The man who made California Dreams look the way they do“ (N.Y. Times)
The Case Study Program was the brainchild of John Entenza, who had announced it in the January 1945 edition of Arts and Architecture magazine. Entenza’s goal was to encourage architects to design and build low cost modern houses for real clients, using industrial materials donated by manufacturers. A key element of the programme was to publish and publicise their efforts, an objective in which Julius Shulman and his camera would be instrumental. The Case Study Program aspired to create experimental prototypes of Modernist houses to be picked up by developers in anticipation of a building boom following the Great Depression and World War II.
The Case Study Houses were characterised by flat roofs, glass walls, modular design and steel frame construction. They were modest in size (by today’s standards) and neatly integrated into the sites with an emphasis on indoor-outdoor living. It was hoped that the designs would help boost living standards for low-income families, but the solutions were often costly and unpopular; abundant use of glass, for instance, being impractical in suburbs where houses were built in close proximity to neighbours and roads.
As Julius Shulman recollected in an interview in 1990, “I listened to people coming through the houses, saying ‘I don’t want to live in a goldfish bowl’.” During the life of the Case Study Program, 36 designs were accepted, 26 of which were built, almost all in L.A. The best-known Case Study Houses were designed by Charles and Ray Eames (CSH#8, more commonly known as the Eames House), Pierre Koenig (CSH#21 and 22), Craig Ellwood (CSH#17B, 18B and 1953), Richard Neutra (CSH#20A), and Raphael Soriano (CSH#1950). They reflect the spirit of International Style Modernism originating in Europe, expressed in response to the unique landscape, climate and culture of California.
The photographic genius of Julius Shulman
Julius Shulman was already an established architectural photographer when he first photographed a Case Study House (CSH#3, designed by William Wurster and Theodore Bernardi) for the March 1949 edition of Arts and Architecture magazine. He went on to photograph 18 of them altogether, making a critical contribution to the enduring reputation of the Case Study Program and Modernist architecture in general. Julius Shulman possessed abundant energy and enthusiasm for his work, and developed a unique style of carefully composed and artfully lit house-portraits, which quickly established him as the pre-eminent architectural photographer on the West Coast.
His photographs reflect his own optimism and love of nature, epitomising the idyllic sunny, suburban California lifestyle. Julius Shulman’s compositions, using simple, single point perspective and exquisitely balanced lighting, demonstrate a profound understanding of the built environment and the relationship between structure, light and shade. He recognised that architecture is for people, and broke from the traditions of his contemporaries by populating his photographs, often with the house’s owners and their friends and family. Julius Shulman saw the significance of context, frequently arranging branches cut from nearby trees to give the impression that the yard had been landscaped, even if it was still a building site. He would also turn up to photograph a newly-constructed house with his car loaded with props and furniture (often from his own house), which he would arrange to make the residence appear lived-in and homely. This often exasperated the architects who wished to present a more contrived, minimal interior.
The demise of the Case Study House
The Case Study Program ended in 1966 when Arts and Architecture magazine ceased publication. The tastes of architects and clients moved on to incorporate the more fanciful elements of Postmodern design and much Modernist architecture from this period was remodelled or simply torn down. Even when protection seemed assured by preservation orders enforced by local city councils, fine examples continue to be lost: Richard Neutra’s Maslon House at The Tamarisk Country Club near Palm Springs, photographed by Julius Shulman in 1963, was demolished as recently as April 2002. Yet remarkably, 18 Case Study Houses are still standing and recognisable.
Much of the credit for ensuring that these Modernist houses survived the whims of fashion can be attributed to Julius Shulman’s iconic images, which have consistently inspired generations of architects, designers, filmmakers and those who aspire to the golden age of ‘California Living’. His photographs are just as fresh today as they were 50 years ago and they retain the power to excite and promote preservation. Despite Entenza’s aspiration for the Case Study Program, only one house design was ever replicated. It is ironic then, that Julius Shulman’s images have become the most reproduced architectural photographs of the 20th century. To the end of his life, Julius Shulman remained Modernism’s most eloquent ambassador.
Kaufmann House in Palm Springs
Las Case Study Houses fueron un experimento de la arquitectura residencial estadounidense, patrocinado en 1945 por la revista Arts & Architecture de los Ángeles, que encargó a los arquitectos de moda de la época diseñar y construir prototipos de casas baratas y eficientes, debido a la demanda de viviendas que sobrevino en Estados Unidos al finalizar la Segunda Guerra Mundial y al regreso de millones de soldados.
El programa Case Study House (1945-1966) fue un acontecimiento excepcional e innovador en la historia de la arquitectura estadounidense y sigue siendo único hasta la fecha. El programa, que se centró en el área de Los Ángeles y supervisó el diseño de 36 prototipos de vivienda, buscaba ofrecer planes para construir residencias modernas que resultaran más económicas y de fácil construcción durante el boom edilicio de la posguerra.
La principal fuerza inspiradora del programa fue el editor de Arts & Architecture John Entenza, un campeón de la modernidad que tenía todos los contactos apropiados para atraer a los mayores talentos de la arquitectura, como Richard Neutra, Charles y Ray Eames y Eero Saarinen. Altamente experimental, el programa creó casas que fueron diseñadas para redefinir el hogar moderno, y así ejercieron una fuerte influencia en la arquitectura –estadounidense e internacional– tanto durante la existencia del programa como incluso hasta el presente.