Architecture & Interior Design

What we can learn from the original Case Study Houses

The Case Study Houses Continue to Impact Residential Design

+See All Viewpoints


The Case Study House Program started in 1945 almost out of necessity in response to the demand for residential housing in the post World War II era. The experiment featured modern houses made for family living built from inexpensive and replicable construction. The program involving notable architects like Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra, and Pierre Koenig ran until 1966. While that may seem like a long time ago for some, there are still many ideas explored through the Case Study Houses that can, and should, be applied to the dynamic residential architecture of today.

The Bailey House, Case Study House no. 21, features clean lines and simple construction. It was built in 1948 and located in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of California. Maximizing space and natural light are at the forefront of Richard Neutra’s design. Square footage and budget limitations became early drivers despite sitting on an abundant site that would allow for later expansion. Glass, steel, and an emphasis on natural materials were utilized to keep the cost down.

One of four designed by Neutra, the idea of a prefabricated utility core was put to the test in this Case Study House. This element is placed adjacent to the kitchen and bathroom. The plan opens to the dining and living room. Neutra describes how large sliding glass doors help to “borrow space from the outdoors.” Flexible partitions and furnishings give the house an open, airy feel. Bedrooms are abundant with natural light thanks to extensive fenestration, while strategically placed landscape features help maintain privacy. These concepts are important in making the structure feel open and uncluttered, despite its modest footprint; a goal sought by many of today’s design professionals.

The Stahl House, Case Study House no. 22, may be the most iconic in the collection due to its minimal design providing sweeping, panoramic views of the city of Los Angeles. Architect Pierre Koenig designed the L-shaped plan with a steel framing and glass structure. Koenig takes advantage of the prominent site by orienting all the main living components around an outdoor swimming pool that overlooks the city. Glass walls and thin steel columns act as the boundary between interior space and the elements. This allows residents to enjoy a virtually unencumbered view.     

The chosen materials and open plan contribute to a seemingly lightweight, expansive, and elegant design. The experimental construction for the time demonstrates how progressive thinking in the construction method can have a significant impact on the design world. New methods derived from a unique combination or invention of processes are necessary for the industry to continue moving forward.  

DLA+ has drawn from these concepts in their construction of a timber frame “entertainment barn” in rural southwest Pennsylvania. The Laurel Mountain retreat boasts a barn-like space filled with natural light. In fact, the structure reflects the old-fashioned construction used in the original assembly. Natural materials, including some salvaged from the original barn, were used wherever possible. Sliding glass doors allow the 16.5-acre site to unite with the interior, like the Bailey House. 

DLA+ Residential Project

DLA+ Residential Project

There are lessons that can still be learned and applied to today’s design landscape from each of the 36 designs. It is up to present-day design professionals to study the past and conceive the next set of experiments that can become the blueprint for future projects.

Read more about the Case Study Houses.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest industry trends and insights delivered straight to your inbox!