Above: Saul and Dr. Ruth Bass poolside at Case Study House #20(B). Located in Altadena, California the home was designed by Buff, Straub, and Hensman in 1958. Photo: Julius Shulman / Getty Archives
Each house must be capable of duplication and in no sense be an individual ‘performance’… It is important that the best material available be used in the best possible way in order to arrive at a ‘good’ solution of each problem, which in the overall program will be general enough to be of practical assistance to the average American in search of a home in which he can afford to live.”
John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture Magazine of the Case Study House program
It has always struck me as a little odd that there are two Case Study Houses numbered 20. Perhaps John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture magazine who spearheaded the Case Study House program (and himself lived in CSH #9), simply lost count when assigning the commissions. The first Case Study House 20(A) is the Stuart Bailey House located in the Pacific Palisades and designed by architect Richard Neutra in 1948. The second Case Study House number 20 was built ten years later. Designed by the architectural firm of Buff, Straub Hensman Case Study House 20(B) – the Bass House – is located in Altadena, California and was completed in 1958. This article is about the latter, the ‘B’ house.
Case Study House 20B differs is many ways from many of the other Case Study Houses with one of the primary differences is that the home is framed in wood rather than steel. Working closely with the owners – renowned graphic illustrator Saul Bass and his wife biochemist Dr. Ruth Bass – the architects were very interested in the possibilities of wood as it pertained to mass production in home construction. The home owners also wanted a house that was more sculptural in form so features such as curved interior ceiling, barrel-vaulted roof, and circular brick fireplace were incorporated to reflect a home that was well suited to the home owner’s needs and desires. An unusual request of the Bass’ was that a large tree that was located on the site remain with the result being one wall of the home resting against the massive trunk of the tree as it soars through the open lattice of the terrace roof. The tree has since been removed.
Case study House 20(B) is one of my personal favorites of the Case Study Program. It also happened to one of the smallest and was the least expensive of the Case Study Houses to build. CSH 20(B) also demonstrates quite well that the relationship between the architects and the home owners need not be a clash of personal ‘wants’ versus design ‘solutions’. The result is a home that, like so many well-designed modern homes of the era, is a masterstroke of architecture that offers an almost seamless blend of interior and exterior spaces with an open plan that allows for natural light from all sides as well as the vaulted ceiling. CSH 20(B) is also a brilliant testament that functional and attractive design can be achieved on a relatively modest budget. It’s a wonderful house that’s still there today, although I believe the barrel-vaulted roof has been replaced with a flat one.
About illustrator Saul Bass
Saul Bass (May 8, 1920 – April 25, 1996) was an American graphic designer and Academy Award winning filmmaker, best known for his design of motion picture title sequences, film posters, and corporate logos.
During his 40-year career Bass worked for some of Hollywood’s most prominent filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. Among his most famous title sequences are the animated paper cut-out of a heroin addict’s arm for Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm, the credits racing up and down what eventually becomes a high-angle shot of a skyscraper in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, and the disjointed text that races together and apart in Psycho.
Bass designed some of the most iconic corporate logos in North America, including the Bell System logo in 1969, as well as AT&T’s globe logo in 1983 after the breakup of the Bell System. He also designed Continental Airlines’ 1968 jet stream logo and United Airlines’ 1974 tulip logo, which became some of the most recognized airline industry logos of the era.
The iconic designs of Illustrator Saul Bass. Click on image for full view3965 false false true false true true false auto false ease-in-out 300 false 0 true true
Check out these great book about the case study program and Saul Bass!