Case Study House 1950: Steel-Framed Design with a Traditional Twist

Next up, let’s take a look at Case Study House 1950, designed for Alan M. Olds by architect Rafael Soriano.

Born in Rhodes, Greece, Soriano immigrated to the United States in 1924 and enrolled in the USC School of Architecture after settling with relatives in LA. While earning his degree, he landed an internship with master architect Richard Neutra, and was strongly influenced by the International Style and use of modern construction materials.

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Soriano became an early proponent of steel-framed design, and by the time Case Study House 1950 was commissioned in 1949, Arts & Architecture had already published one of his designs for a suburban house where “the whole conception of the plan is based on a modular system which effects simplicity of erection and economy of cost.” Editor John Entenza especially wanted the Olds House for his magazine since the structure was to be in steel and steel was becoming fashionable.

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Soriano actually published three different plans of modular construction for the house before finally settling on a hybrid solution that adapted the most practical solutions from each scheme. By September 1950, Arts & Architecture reported that the house “is now in the finishing stages, and will be ready for furnishing and landscaping within 60 days,” adding that Soriano “is functioning as an architect, coordinator, expeditor, and general nervous breakdown container, with astonishingly good results.”

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The final structure was a steel and glass pavilion based on a 10’ x 20’ rectangular grid, supporting a corrugated steel deck roof. Soriano oriented the house to maximize spectacular views to the west through a continuous wall of glass, with the living room and bedrooms facing out to the view.

In the kitchen and eating areas, the house “”turns upon itself and living develops around a large kitchen-dining plan opening upon a terrace which leads directly into the living room interrupted only by the mass of two fireplaces.” Soriano created the outdoor dining terrace by extending the flat steel roof around its perimeter. The architectural device of using an overhead frame to define the edges of an outdoor room became one of his trademarks, and blurred the lines between indoor and outdoor space in modern living.

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To maximize space, Soriano outfitted the house with custom-built storage walls that contained everything from cupboard space to headboards. All came fully wired and ready for the lightbulbs and telephones. He also installed floor-to-ceiling storage partitions between rooms after completing the finish work. This allowed the 1,600-square-foot house to maintain an open, airy feel while providing the new homeowners with storage galore.

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For the interior, Soriano opted for traditional finishings such as wood paneling and brick instead of playing up the steel structure. He sensed that the mass market wasn’t particularly receptive to full-on industrial design, at least at home, so he softened the “warehouse look” to bring a comfortable and accessible feel to the space.

Close attention to the use of colors and textures also made the interior feel more like home. The master bedroom featured an entire wall covered in Butler’s Peg-Board, and carpeting in a neutral shade was used in the master bedroom and both bathrooms. Throughout the house, various shades of flat paint in deep and light tones created a striking contrast to the plastic laminate wall panels in the kitchen and bath. Soriano topped off the kitchen with aluminum cabinets in a cool lemon yellow.

Today, the house still stands, but the addition of a second floor and stucco facade in the mid-1970’s have rendered it unrecognizable.

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