The most famous home in the Hollywood Hills is Case Study #22, also known as the Stahl House. The second most well known is it’s close cousin, Case Study #21, or the Bailey House.
Renowned photographer Julius Shulman captured the famous photograph of two women sitting in the living room of the Stahl House at night with the twinkling city lights below. That image came to symbolize the modern California lifestyle of the Kennedy years.
Pierre Koenig designed both houses. Case Study #21 was built for psychologist Walter Bailey and his wife, Mary in 1959, one year before the Stahl House.
Enter The Case Study House Program
The Case Study House program was a residential architectural design initiative sponsored by Arts + Architecture magazine from 1945 to 1964. The program was announced in a manifesto printed in the January 1945 edition. Although the political agenda was only implied, the tone was most definitely filled with the fire and brimstone of an honest revolutionary.
The aim of the program, the authors said, was to bring cutting edge design and architecture to the masses. In other words, affordable housing without the dreary aura of a prison.
“The house must by capable of duplication and in sense an ‘individual performance.’”
During the twenty years of the program, some 36 designs were created from notable architects of the day including household names such as Richard Neutra and Charles Eames. Most of the homes were eventually built and many are still standing, although a few have been remodeled beyond all recognition.
The motivation behind the program wasn’t simply populist idealism. In the post WWII era, a baby boom was underway and the war’s returning 12 million soldiers were busy forming new households. The housing shortage was real.
This was also the Atomic Age when emerging technologies offered hope for a brighter future.
It was from this zeitgeist that the Case Study philosophy was born. The idea was that the program would be a living design laboratory where accomplished architects could test their solutions to the housing problem. The program guidelines called for the use of new and affordable technologies in material and design. Moreover, each home should address a particular aspect of Southern California living.
Inside Pierre Koenig’s Case Study #21
With that mandate in mind, it’s easy to understand why the Case Study homes ended up looking the way they do. The Bailey House shares the the low-slung roofline and rectilinear shapes with the other Case Study homes. This choice isn’t merely aesthetic. Straight lines and standard building materials are far cheaper to use and standardize, an essential ingredient for a successful Case Study home.
Whereas the Stahl House is clearly created to take advantage of its dramatic vistas, Case Study #21 is much more subtle in its integration with the site.
Click here to see the original brochure.
Driving by, the home is easy to miss. Simple white panels tucked into the hillside is all that’s visible from the street. Inside, the home is built on a steel frame structure with floor-to-ceiling glass and an open floor plan. The windows and sliding glass doors are oriented along a north-south axis that brings in plenty of natural light and helps regulate the indoor climate.
Lacking the spectacular views of the Stahl House, Case Study #21 takes the opposite approach by blending in with the surroundings. In addition to the seamless indoor-outdoor flow, Koenig’s vision includes a water feature that meanders throughout the property culminating in a small cascading waterfall in the center atrium. The elements of light, earth, and water combine to create a harmonious experience.
No doubt one reason that the Bailey House has continued to capture the imaginations of architecture buffs is not only its historical significance, but that the home has been maintained very closely to its original feel. During the 1990s, the property had begun to deteriorate and its new owner enlisted Koenig to restore the house. Koenig updated and improved upon his original design and added new appliances and systems.
To anyone familiar with the modernist construction so common in the Hollywood Hills of late, it’s tempting to see the connection between Case Study designs and today’s modernist blocks. My experience was quite the opposite. Although the form is similar, the intent could not be more different.
One of the hallmarks of the Mid Century masters was a sensitivity to the natural topography. Despite it’s use of industrial steel and glass, the Bailey House has a light and almost gentle feel. In contrast, many of today’s monolithic mansions are crammed into the hillside by sheer force and will. The materials they are built with are chosen not for their practicality, but precisely because they are scarce, exotic, and expensive. The objective of these properties is clearly to convey the status, wealth and prestige of their owners. Not exactly design for the masses.
That said, it should be noted that the current asking price for this two bedroom home is $4.5 million. The irony is that the property’s historical and cultural significance has put the home out of reach for all but the most affluent art collectors.
It’s unlikely that Case Study #21 will be available for public viewing any time soon. However, Archdigest has 3D virtual tour that does a pretty good job of simulating the feel of the house.
Listing and photos courtesy of Sothebys International Realty, Barry Sloane, and Marc Silver.