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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Future Interiors from the Past 7: Case Study House No 21 1959

This wonderful photograph by architectural photographer Julius Shulman gives us the clean, modernistic lines of cutting edge Mid-Century Modern architecture in the late fifties.  Shulman (1910-2009) largely worked in black and white and produced some of the most iconic images of modern architecture, particularly domestic architecture, in the last 75 years.  In fact, much of the decor here is black and white giving extra potency to the flashes of colour that appear to be racing into the picture from outside the frame like so many trains.. Shulman was an absolute master of composition and you can be certain every element was carefully placed to produce this simultaneously calm but dynamic shot.

Living room and hall 1959

The hall in 1959

The location for this house is 9038 Wonderland Park Avenue in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. It was part of a project sponsored by Arts and Architecture magazine called the Case Study House Program which originated shortly after the Second World War.  The idea was to get architects to come up with designs which could be easily reproduced with the idea of using modern techniques to address the coming housing boom.  The programme ran from 1948, when the first house was built until 1964.  Thirty six houses were designed but only 26 were built.  This is Case Study House No 21 which was commissioned in 1957 by psychologist Walter Bailey.

Pierre Koenig during the construction of the house in 1958

The architect was Pierre Koenig (1924-2004) a pioneer in the use of steel in residential house construction. Case Study House No 21 was built entirely of steel with the idea that it could be easily reproduced as low cost housing.  The house was completed in January 1959 and through Shulman's photographs in the February issue of Arts and Architecture, as well a subsequent shoot in 1960, became an icon for the new Californian living.

Dr Bailey sold the house in 1969 and a succession of owners began to remodel it, losing many of its key features.  In 1997 film producer Dan Cracchiolo bought the house and commissioned Koenig to get it back, as far as possible, to its original state.  

The hall in 2006

They went to extraordinary lengths to do so; commissioning, for example, a new black Naugahyde sofa to replace the one seen in the picture at top.  They even got the original maker of the ten foot long hi-fi cabinet to build a similar unit.  The restoration won a City of Los Angeles preservation award.  



In 2006 the house was auctioned and Julius Shulman, by now ninety five years old, was invited back to photograph the restored house, providing a wonderful record of the project. The house was bought by a Korean lady for over $3,000,000; a lot of money for what was supposed to be a prototype for affordable housing!

Steel housing never caught on in the post World War 2 housing boom that did, indeed, follow so the CSH No 21 is a glimpse of a future that never was but might have been.

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