Case Study House #16: Design in Duplicate

Up next, let’s take a look at a house that architect Rodney Walker never imagined would end up as part of the Case Study Program in the first place. Walker designed the house as his own family home, and it wasn’t discovered by Arts and Architecture editor John Entenza until a few years after it was built. But, when Entenza saw that the home characterized the same modern aesthetic that he hoped to promote with the Case Study project, he just had to include it.

Built on a 3.5 acre lot above Beverly Hills, C​ase Study House 16 ​became the most spacious of the program at just 2,000 square feet. Sliding panels and hanging screens divided the open living space into smaller areas, and Walker included built­in shelves and closed compartments for magazine storage in a library corner to maximize space. He also installed a 21­foot light shelf with fluorescent tubing to illuminate the room, which added a dramatic touch of flair to the otherwise minimalist structure. The house came decked out with the most cutting­edge appliances of the day: a dishwasher and radiant heat.

Rodney Walker’s sons, Bruce and Craig Walker, both grew up in the home and share fond memories of the time they spent there. The brothers were devastated to learn that the house was demolished in the late 90s when they tried to visit, but instead of giving it up for lost, they decided to pay tribute to their father’s work by rebuilding the house not once, but twice. Today, there are two near­replicas of Case Study House 16 in Southern California: in Camarillo, where Bruce lives, and in Ojai, where Craig later built his own duplicate.
Beyond the fact that two brothers built themselves the same house, what’s most unusual is that up until they started building, they had no idea that their father was an important figure in modern architecture.

Rodney Walker didn’t even call himself an architect. His sons remember “designer­builder” as his preferred title, which reflected his passion for the physical act of building the homes he designed. Later on, when the American Institute of Architects offered to give him the honorary title of architect, he respectfully turned them down.

Part of the reason the brothers knew so little about their father’s architecture was that he never talked about it. In an interview with the LA Times, Craig said, “He never saw himself as influential, never hobnobbed with those big names like Pierre Koeing. He wasn’t self-promoting”

Walker didn’t keep any of his architectural plans, and other than the articles written about his three homes chosen for the Case Study Program, he left behind no written record of his work. When his sons took on the challenge of rebuilding their childhood home, they had nothing to go on but memory.

But, just as Craig was about to start building his replica, the brothers had a stroke of luck. By doing some detective work, they discovered a house their father built in Louisville, KY. Bruce and his wife went to go check it out, and while they were driving around an area they thought it might be, there it was: another duplicate of Case Study 16. Their father left a set of his plans with the original owner, who still lived there, and she gladly turned them over.

Bruce and Craig say they didn’t rebuild Case Study 16 for sentimental value, or because it was part of the Case Study program. They built it because it perfectly met their needs. Their father’s thoughtful approach to design embraced “on trend” in smart measure, with an emphasis on modular construction and simple geometry. The house is as practical today as was when it was first built, and is a testament to good design that stands the test of time.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Wade November 21, 2015 at 11:45 am

    I hate to tell you this, but Case Study House number 16 was designed and built by Craig Ellwood between 1952 and 53 at 1811 Bel Air Road in LA. For complete info on house number 16, you might look here. https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/case-study-house-16

  • Reply Stephen Meade November 23, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for the comment. The fun part of researching the Case Study homes is trying to identify where in line they fall. Arts and Architecture, who commissioned the case study program, originally christened the Rodney Walker house as #16 in 1947. In 1953 they named the Craig Ellwood house the Case Study House for 1953 — but the Rodney Walker #16 was later demolished so many sources now consider the Ellwood house #16. http://www.artsandarchitecture.com/case.houses/houses.html . Because there are many discrepancies on the house order we decided to stick with their order the best we could. One of the interesting things is that I think even Arts and Architecture was surprised by how popular the Case Study house become…much more so than they originally planned. Thanks for writing in!

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