Magazine Initiates the Case Study Program Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Case Study Program was an effort to revolutionize postwar American housing by commissioning exemplary architectural designs for low-cost, modern homes. Although not as influential as it hoped to be, the program did help bring about a wider acceptance of modernism in everyday architecture.

Summary of Event

John Entenza joined the staff of California Arts and Architecture in 1938. The magazine had begun publication in 1911 as a trade journal, The Pacific Builder, and had evolved into a regional coffee-table publication, reviewing gardens, houses, and theater performances. During Entenza’s tenure as editor and then publisher, the magazine began to focus on modern architecture and culture, and by 1943, as Arts and Architecture, it had changed its format and focus. Arts and Architecture (periodical) Magazines Case Study Program Housing Architecture;modernism Modernism;architecture [kw]Arts and Architecture Magazine Initiates the Case Study Program (Jan., 1945) [kw]Magazine Initiates the Case Study Program, Arts and Architecture (Jan., 1945) [kw]Case Study Program, Arts and Architecture Magazine Initiates the (Jan., 1945) Arts and Architecture (periodical) Magazines Case Study Program Housing Architecture;modernism Modernism;architecture [g]North America;Jan., 1945: Arts and Architecture Magazine Initiates the Case Study Program[01370] [g]United States;Jan., 1945: Arts and Architecture Magazine Initiates the Case Study Program[01370] [c]Publishing and journalism;Jan., 1945: Arts and Architecture Magazine Initiates the Case Study Program[01370] [c]Architecture;Jan., 1945: Arts and Architecture Magazine Initiates the Case Study Program[01370] Entenza, John Eames, Charles Koenig, Pierre Neutra, Richard

Entenza’s interest in the practice of modern architecture led him to speculate about the nature of postwar housing in the early 1940’s. In 1943, the magazine organized “Designs for Modern Living,” a competition of designs for modest, modern, family housing cosponsored by twenty-two manufacturers. After publishing the designs of three winners, the magazine highlighted other promising submissions in later issues. In July, 1944, Entenza published a lively and extensive discussion of prefabricated housing by Buckminster Fuller, Eero Saarinen Saarinen, Eero , Charles Eames, and Herbert Mather. The magazine began to build a national and international reputation as a showcase for new talent, and was the first to show the work of such architects as Paul Rudolph and Harry Seidler.

In January of 1945, in an editorial move that cemented the influence and prestige of Arts and Architecture, Entenza announced the inauguration of the Case Study Program. His original plan called for the magazine to commission the construction of a group of houses on specific sites on fixed budgets. Architects were chosen to begin to study, plan, design, and construct houses that would answer the special needs of life in Southern California.

The architects Entenza commissioned represented a cross section of the spectrum of architects working in a modern idiom in Los Angeles. Richard Neutra and J. R. Davidson Davidson, J. R. were European emigrants whose work represented the ideals of international modernism. A middle generation of modernists included Raphael Soriano Soriano, Raphael and Charles Eames, both of whom had degrees from American schools of architecture and had been in private practice. A younger generation of designers was led by Craig Ellwood Ellwood, Craig , who was twenty-six when he was invited to design for the program, and Pierre Koenig, whose works evidenced a fully developed sense of a style of glass and steel.

Three of the commissioned buildings were erected on five acres Entenza purchased for this purpose in Pacific Palisades. One of the houses was designed for Entenza by Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames; Charles and Ray Eames built a Case Study house and studio for themselves on the same parcel. A third Case Study house on the acreage was designed by Richard Neutra. Over time, however, the program’s success came to depend on Entenza’s matchmaking abilities in finding enlightened clients for the architects he had engaged. By the program’s official end in 1966, the series of commissions that had resulted included the construction of twenty-three houses, the presentation of eight experimental projects, and the planning of clustered housing units, two of which were realized.

The Case Study Program was a direct outgrowth of Entenza’s progressive agenda. From the start, Arts and Architecture published unusually long and informative articles for the interested reader on both basic issues and innovations in a variety of modern art forms including music, film, painting, and design, as well as architecture. Entenza saw the postwar years as a fantastic opportunity to refine and redefine American life by exploiting the artistic, social, and technological changes that World War II had generated.

The Case Study Program was based on projections of postwar population growth and housing needs. Demographically, the emerging middle class was younger, better educated, and more experienced than were its predecessors, yet the traditional trappings of middle-class domestic life were, at first, unavailable to them because of the need to retool the wartime economy. In some important ways, the Case Study houses were to be living research laboratories: They were both pragmatic, experimental redefinitions of the meaning of home and shelter for “typical” American families as well as illustrations of the ways in which the latest sociological thinking and newly available war technologies might be put to domestic use.

The Case Study Program was motivated by a central democratic ideal shared, to a greater or lesser extent, by Entenza, the architects, participating manufacturers, and clients—a belief that all Americans should be able to live in an affordable, well-designed environment. Ideally, Case Study houses would reflect both the realities and the promise, physical and psychological, of life in the United States after World War II.

A second, central Case Study Program goal was to experiment with techniques and materials that had been used in the war effort. Entenza expected that the building process of program houses would take advantage of the sort of rationalization of labor that had enabled the government quickly and efficiently to provide temporary housing for large military and civilian populations. A number of the architects Entenza commissioned for the program, including Charles Eames, had spent the war years experimenting with military applications for materials such as plastics, metal alloys, and molded plywoods, and with new processes, such as cycle-welding, that might now be converted to domestic production and consumption. For example, between 1949 and 1960, the Case Study architects tested the limits of structural steel, a material unavailable for private use during and immediately after the war.

Between 1946 and 1966, twenty-four Case Study projects were built in Los Angeles, La Jolla, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Phoenix, Arizona. While the first group of houses did not exactly follow Entenza’s mandate calling for the use of industrial materials, by the time the Eames and Entenza houses were completed in 1949, a consistent and distinctive style had emerged. Case Study houses were characterized by concrete-slab foundations; rectilinear, modular facades and silhouettes; and flat roofs. Case Study buildings made use of standardized, industrial-grade materials such as aluminum siding, stock sheet glass, plywood panels, and concrete blocks. The traditional street facade disappeared, and the house turned inward and toward the privacy of the backyard. Walls of sliding glass doors allowed for the interpretation of the multipurpose interior and outdoor living spaces.

The Case Study Program did not fulfill Entenza’s dream of revolutionizing the average American’s taste, nor did it have a truly significant impact on the house-building industry. Despite criticism that it perpetuated elitist concerns for aesthetics and the single-family detached dwelling, the Case Study Program did have a trickle-down effect on tract housing in the West. The program also provided the prototypes for much of the commercial and industrial building of the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s, some of it designed by original Case Study Program architects.


While the Case Study Program did not transform American architectural taste or building practice to the extent that Entenza might have hoped, it did encourage a more widespread acceptance of the compatibility of modern architecture and interiors with the requirements of contemporary American life. Although modernism, as an aesthetic construct and a worldview, dated from the turn of the century, the postwar world was seen as somehow significantly changed, different from prewar society in attitude, ideals, and abilities. Whether all, some, or none of this was actually the case is less important than the resulting sound and fury over the perceived need for change in the smallest details of American life.

Entenza was not the only person interested in future-oriented postwar housing. For example, in 1942, Architectural Forum published a group of designs for thirty-three prefabricated projects as part of a piece entitled “The New House of 194X.” As the war began to draw to a close, interior design and women’s magazines, including Woman’s Day, House and Garden, and American Home, began to speculate about coming trends and innovations in American domestic design. The Case Study Program itself provoked widespread media coverage that was not confined to the pages of Arts and Architecture. Other publications, both trade journals and consumer magazines, including House and Home, Sunset, and the Los Angeles Times, publicized the houses. Public interest was also high. The first six houses, designed, constructed, completed, furnished, and landscaped during the first three years of the program, drew more than 368,000 visitors.

While the forms and facades of the new houses were startlingly untraditional, Americans were quick to clamor for the sorts of amenities that Case Study houses offered: Kitchens were light, efficient, well planned, and equipped with the latest in labor-saving appliances; two bathrooms were the norm; the formal, separate dining room disappeared; and the public and private areas of the house were buffered by patios and transitional spaces.

The Case Study Program did have an influence on mainstream building of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. The rigor and discipline required of both home builder and homeowner in the high style of a Case Study design were gentled and softened into a popularized version that came to be known as California Modern California Modern architecture . This style was a fantasy version of the wonders of life in Hollywood—informal living, ideal weather, and a particular sort of sophistication and glamour—and was not restricted to the geography of the West Coast. Tract homes in this style usually exploited some version of the Case Study architectural vocabulary of overhangs, picture windows, sliding glass doors, and light woods.

Mainstream and tract housing developments of the postwar period did not, however, make use of the signature element of the Case Study Program, structural steel, and so avoided the mass-production component of Entenza’s agenda. This was probably for two reasons, each of which offers a hint as to why the program failed to develop widespread appeal. First, Americans were highly resistant to steel as a housing element. Perhaps because of its associations with war production, or perhaps as a result of American architectural history and tradition, steel was unable to overcome industrial connotations that most Americans found offensive in domestic architecture. Second, steel was not as flexible as wood, either physically or aesthetically, particularly for the sort of small, individual units that Americans continued to believe signified “home.” It is clear that the Case Study houses did not express the collective American sense of how life should be organized. Both explicitly and implicitly, the needs of “average” American families were being adequately served by tract housing.

Despite the seeming failure of Entenza’s manifesto, the Case Study Program is a significant chapter in modern architecture. The importance of the Case Study Program derived from the houses’ iconic qualities, whether their designs were realized or not. They were intended as icons of the new American middle class; their meaning stemmed from the images of their intentions, the embodiment of a union of social utopian mythology and the realities of mass production. For those affiliated with the Case Study Program, architecture was both a social and a functional art, concerned as much with human problems as with the peculiarities of site and structure.

John Entenza was among the vanguard of Americans interested in affecting the ways the postwar world looked and behaved. In these designs, there is a suggestion that modern existence could involve the personalization and domestication of the same economic impulses that had fueled the war machine. The Case Study Program is particularly American in its optimistic exploration of the expansion of the commercial and social possibilities of industrial production, particularly American in its consistently spatial and technological symbolism. Ironically, the Case Study Program legacy is an international and industrial one. The steel-frame designs of Eames, Koenig, Soriano, and Ellwood had a significant impact on the development of a high-tech style of residential architecture in Great Britain and Europe. The structural and formal innovations of the Case Study Program are most familiar to Americans in industrial and commercial designs of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

The Case Study Program shared the glamorous aura of science, the siren call of the new, and the promise of convenience with its contemporary, the European International style. In the hands of Entenza and his Case Study architects, however, the products of industry were domesticated and brought to an individualized scale. The rational was made to serve the domestic. The Case Study Program offered Americans single-family homes that were aesthetically avant-garde, affordable, and eminently practical. The innovations they introduced were historically significant and internationally influential and made the reputations of a number of important American architects. Arts and Architecture (periodical) Magazines Case Study Program Housing Architecture;modernism Modernism;architecture

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Banham, Reyner. “Architecture IV: The Style That Nearly . . .” In Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. This meditation on urban Los Angeles includes a chapter on Case Study houses as a Southern California architectural style. Eccentric and entertaining. Black-and-white illustrations, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goldstein, Barbara, ed.“Arts and Architecture”: The Entenza Years. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990. An anthology of important articles appearing in Arts and Architecture between 1943 and 1959. Also includes an essay on Entenza by Esther McCoy. Black-and-white photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCoy, Esther. Case Study Houses, 1945-1962. 2d ed. Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1977. A seminal book by an important historian of California architecture. Black-and-white plates, biographies of participants, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______, et al. Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1989. The catalog of an important exhibition and a detailed study of the Case Study Program and its projects. Readable and informative essays by scholars of architectural history and design. Black-and-white photographs, biographies of architects, chronology, bibliography, index, notes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pulos, Arthur J. “The Search for Modern Living.” In The American Design Adventure, 1940-1975. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988. Contextualizes the Case Study Program in postwar American housing problems and promises. Black-and-white photographs, comprehensive bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, A. T. Elizabeth. Case Study Houses. Edited by Peter Goessel. New York: Taschen, 2002. Massive history of the Case Study Program, including photographs of each home, reproductions of plans and models, a reprint of the original magazine pages announcing the program, and biographies of the Case Study architects. Highly recommended.

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Categories: History