The Origins of the Mid Century Modern American House. Part One

The idea behind the so called ‘American Mid Century Modern House’ -with its open floor plan, functional areas and cubic shape- has its origins in the works of Le Corbusier and other European architects later absorbed and regionalized by the masters of American architecture.

julius shulman Franks House Los Angeles (Franks House – Los Angeles)

During the mid century era the model for the modern house was born in the US and exported worldwide as idiom of the modern living.

arts and architecture jan 1945

(Arts and Architecture January 1945)

An essential contribution to the genesis of the ‘American Mid Century Modern House’ idea was given by John Entenza -publisher of Art & Architecture- that in 1945 conceived the ‘Case Study Houses Program’; involving in the project some of the most important post-war Californian architects as Richard Neutra, Rodney Walker, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Ed Killingsworth, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig.

case study house program

The houses had to be an example of a modern and inexpensive way of building and living for post-war modern families.

The first houses included in the program were built in wood -due to the shortage of industrial materials- and their dimensions were regulated by law.

julius shulman - pierre koenig -case study house #21

(Pierre Koenig – Case Study House #21)

Six of the Case Study Houses were built in California by 1948 and they set the rules for the forthcoming conventional industrialized houses.

Probably the most famous and exceptional of those mid century modern masterpieces was the Charles and Ray Eames Case Study House #8 built in Santa Monica, California.

charles eames case study house #8

(Charles Eames – Case Study House #8 – pic found here)

The house is placed on a hill overlooking the sea within trees that functioned as natural shades to protect the interior from the direct sun light.

The Case Study House #8 has a prefabricated metal framework -that delayed of few years its completion- covered by transparent and opaque panels of various sizes and colours; bringing to mind a Mondrian painting.

The private area is placed at the second floor of the double-height living space that was furnished with some of the most famous Charles and Ray Eames pieces.

charles eames case study house #8

(Charles Eames – Case Study House #8 – pic found here)

The Richard Neutra Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, set the rules for the typical mid century modern American suburban houses.

The house ‘landed’ -as Richard Neutra liked to say- with its green grass all around and the swimming pool, in a desertic landscape surrounded by hills and rocks.

Its plan has the shape of a cross with each wing designed by Neutra to have their own view and access to open space.

Richard Neutra - Kaufmann House Palm Springs - Julius Shulman

(the Kaufmann House photographed by Julius Shulman)

Also the New York Museum of Modern Art had a fundamental role in the process of bringing modern architecture to a wide audience. In 1949, as an example, it hosted a model of ideal suburban house designed by Marcel Breur.

The house was quite similar in shape and plan to one that Le Corbusier designed in Chile in 1930; the Errazuriz House.

Breuer’s model wanted to transfer the excess of postwar optimism into a model for the American middle class dwelling.

Read now the second part to discover everything about the origins of the American Mid Century Modern Houses!

Richard Joseph Neutra standing beside Shulman photographs of the Kaufman House
(Richard Neutra standing beside Shulman photographs of the Kaufman House)