Case Study House 20. Buff, Straub and Hensman

Case Study House #20, dubbed ‘The Bass House” was constructed in 1958 and can be found on Santa Rosa Avenue in Altadena, California. The house itself represents a departure from the norm with regards to the Case Study program as it was built primarily out of wood, rather than steel as the majority of the other Case Study Houses.

Buff, Straub and Hensman

The structure’s architects, Buff, Straub and Hensman, wanted the house to reflect the American Craftsman style that began in the last years of the 19th century.
In order to create this effect, the design of the house heavily utilizes wood. As well as pleasantly reflecting the local regions artisan heritage, the use of wood also enabled the architects to explore the possibilities and positive aspects of wooden construction that were made increasingly possible by the advances in mass production happening in the early to mid-1900’s.

Case Study House #20 was the perfect vehicle, in the perfectly appropriate location of Pasadena, through which to experiment with this age-old building material.

Buff, Straub and Hensman

In order to impart on the construction the American Craftsman style design that so accurately and lovingly reflects the artisan background of the local region in which the house is situated, the architects utilized the smooth curving forms of barrel vaults and broad roof overhangings in the structure’s design. This enables the house to exude the modesty of a carpenter’s abode while still retaining the sleek, sophistication that flows so naturally through the domestic designs of Buff, Straub and Hensman.

In the case of The Bass House, the architects shared with their clients, a designer and a biochemist, a preference for plasticity and sculptural forms that were not only introduced in the ovular ceiling spaces and smooth structural curves but also in other forms.

Buff, Straub and Hensman

Inside the house a circular brick fireplace retains the undulating lines that permeate the structure’s design while still maintaining the characteristics of a craftsman’s home whereas, outside, a large ovoid pool reflects the subtle luxury and attention to easy living so common throughout the Case Study House project.
Alongside the pool, the lean of a large pine tree, incorporated within an open eave of the house’s rear overhang, dictates a certain harmony marriage between structure and nature.

Buff, Straub and Hensman

As with all Buff, Straub and Hensman designs, practicality is not substituted in the place of aesthetics and contemporary design. The house utilizes a sophisticated roof system that employs lightweight, prefabricated plywood components that showcase a way in which traditional building materials like wood can be used in a contemporary context. Certain other elements of the structure were also made out of plywood including the box beams, barrel vaults and flat stressed skin panels which, not only work as a testament to the practicality of wood as a building material but also as a testament to its affordability.

Case Study House #20, like so many of its counterparts, proves that innovative and intelligent domestic design can work towards improving quality of life while still remaining aesthetically joyous.

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