Book Review: Case Study Debut

By Michael Webb

Arts & Architecture 1945-49. Taschen. $69.99.

Esther McCoy summarized the importance of Arts & Architecture:  “A magazine as flat as a tortilla and sleek as a Bugatti…became the greatest force in the dissemination of information, architectural and cultural, about California.” East Coast publications largely ignored the best of the West. Arts & Architecture gave generous coverage to regional modernists, but also featured houses by Marcel Breuer, Paul Rudolph, Harry Seidler, and Oscar Niemeyer. Editor John Entenza had his blind spots, scanting the originality of Schindler and Lautner in favor of orthogonal orthodoxy. But he was far ahead of public taste and most of the profession, and his genius was to win converts to modernism, and plant a seed that would keep blooming. The Case Study house is still a viable model.

Benedikt Taschen has already produced a multi-volume compilation of articles from a key decade of A&A, 1945-54; this one fat volume is a distillation of that selection, focusing on the Case House Study Program and other modern houses of those years. The covers—by Herbert Matter, Alvin Lustig, Ray Eames and others—are reason enough to buy this book. It’s introduced by David Travers, who became editor when John Entenza departed in 1962 and struggled to keep the magazine alive for another five years. As he notes, it was important for the breadth of its coverage of progressive ideas, in the arts and social issues, but is chiefly remembered for the Case Study houses. That topic is covered in depth in another massive Taschen compilation, where the original sketches are juxtaposed with photographs of completed buildings, and evaluated as a historical event.

This new edition captures the excitement that contemporary readers must have felt as they discovered each project in turn. Here are the original concepts, introduced by their architects. Eliot Noyes analyzes the first Eames chairs. It was a decade in which a new generation of designers, emerging from a victorious war, believed they could win the peace. They were certain that the future was bright and that their enlightened ideas would prevail. As a starry-eyed Wordsworth remarked of the French Revolution, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven.” It’s sad and stirring to re-encounter that moment of optimism so long after it was crushed. 

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