Mid Century Modern Architecture
This architectural style stems from International Style and was formally introduced to the American public in 1932. International Style is a term coined by architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock and architect Philip Johnson. They curated the first architectural exhibition ever held at the Museum of Modern Art called Modern Architecture: International Exhibition.
The exhibition showcased the work of architects who embraced simplicity with their design and integration with nature. A few of the buildings featured were the Bauhaus School by Walter Gropius, Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier, Tugendhat House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Kiefhoek housing by J.J.P. Oud, Lovell House by Richard Neutra, and McGraw-Hill building by Raymond Hood.
What was most remarkable for visitors that day was how these architects used steel and reinforced concrete to create uninterrupted interior spaces, and simple geometric shapes. It was something new in the residential construction. It became the buzz in housing.
Case Study Houses
The most memorable collection of modern homes are the Case Study Houses.
The Case Study House program developed as the result of “endless discussions in the comfortably shabby editorial offices of Arts & Architecture where during WWII John Entenza (editor in chief) and a number of relatively young architectural guns would talk about new ideas in residential design and construction.”
The goal of the project was to design residential dwellings that were simple, stylish, replicable, and affordable for the housing boom caused by millions of returning soldiers.
The magazine sponsored the project by commissioning famous architects of the time. Among them were Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Eero Saarinen, A. Quincy Jones, Ralph Rapson. J.R. Davidson, Whitney Smith, and Thornton Abell.
The program ran from 1945 to 1966. Out of the 36 architectural designs submitted 28 homes were built in Los Angeles along with Case Study Apartments #1, a multi-family building in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Stahl House, Case Study House #22 by Pierre Koenig, is perhaps the most recognized home in this collection.
Just recently Case Study #21, the Bailey House also by Pierre Koenig, hit the market asking $4,500,000.
7776 Torreyson Dr,
Los Angeles, CA 90046
While LA offers a remarkable collection of modern architecture there is one that stands above the rest. Literally.
A heap of determination and ingenuity were the two most important elements needed to build this modernist home the Encyclopedia Britannica once called “the most modern home built in the world.”
Aerospace engineer, Leonard Malin, was gifted a piece of land in the Hollywood Hills deemed unbuildable due to its 45 degree slope.
Determined to live here Malin turned to architect John Lautner to realize his dream.
Instead of competing with the hillside Lautner arrived at a unique solution. He designed what LA Conservancy describes as, “An octagon perched atop a twenty-nine-foot high, five-foot-wide concrete column like a flying saucer on a stick ….”
It cost $140,000 to see the project to completion. Malin came in with $80,000. A NY Times feature notes the rest was bartered. Malin said ”I traded six months of the house being shown by the [Southern California] gas company in exchange for things like tile that went through the whole house,’’ and “Chem Seal provided the experimental epoxies, coatings and resins to put the house together and inspired the name Chemosphere. (Lautner originally wanted to call the house Chapiteau.)”
When it was done, Malin and his family enjoyed many years riding the funicular up to this spectacular example of modernist architecture offering panoramic views of the San Fernando Valley.
Malin eventually sold his home in 1972.
And then, with each new owner, a series of unfortunate design choices left this futuristic residence looking washed up and aged.
That was until then couple Angelika and Benedikt Taschen, of the German publishing house Taschen. (Yes, the same company that publishes Case Study Houses) purchased the home for $1 million in the late 90s.
The Taschens hired architects Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena and spent the two years restoring Chemosphere. “The restoration team removed layers of paint, paneled the walls with the same shade of ash wood used for the original built-in couches and cabinets (some of which needed repair or restoration), and replaced the fixed-paneled windows with frameless glass.”
For modernist fans this home represents possibility, ingenuity, and innovation.
And we’re grateful Benedikt Taschen believes, “It’s the responsibility of the owner to preserve it for future generations because a house like this doesn’t belong to one or two people: It belongs to mankind.”