Architecture is nothing more than a practical combination of arts and science, and nothing symbolized this triumphal combination more than Case Study houses, a high point in modern American architecture. Between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s, major architects of the day were invited to design affordable and efficient model homes, and some thirty of them were built, mostly in Southern California. The sponsor of this ambitious project was the Californian magazine Arts & Architecture, which engaged an architectural photographer named Julius Shulman to dutifully record them.
Thus this experiment in residential architecture was gloriously captured by Shulman in his iconic black and white photographs. Fittingly for Shulman, one of the first architectural photographers to include the inhabitants of homes in the pictures, his most famous image was the 1960 view of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House No. 22 (also the Stahl House), which showed two well-dressed women conversing casually inside.
In the photo, the cantilevered living room appears to float diaphanously above Los Angeles. “The vertiginous point of view contrasts sharply with the relaxed atmosphere of the house’s interior, testifying to the ability of the Modernist architect to transcend the limits of the natural world,” praised the New York Times. Yet this view was created as meticulously as the house itself. Wide-angle photography belied the actual smallness of the house; furniture and furnishings were staged, and as were the women. Although they were not models (but rather girlfriends of architectural students), they were asked to sit still in the dark as Shulman exposed the film seven minutes to capture lights from LA streets. Then, lights inside were quickly switched on to capture two posing women.
Result was the photo Sir Norman Foster termed his favorite “architectural moment”. Indeed, the photo captured excitement and promises the house held, and propelled Case Study No. 22 into the forefront of national consciousness. Some called it the most iconic building in LA. It appeared as backdrop in many movies, TV series and advertisements. (Tim Allen was abducted by aliens here in Galaxy Quest; Greg Kinnear would make it his bachelor pad in Nurse Betty. Italian models in slicked-back hair would frolic poolside in Valentino ads). According to Koenig, Case Study No. 22. was featured in more than 1,200 books — more often than Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.