Case Study House #24: A Concept for Communal Living

Next in the series, let’s take a look at Case Study House #24, which was actually an entire planned community of 260 homes designed by architects A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons. Real estate developer Joseph Eichler sponsored the project. Prospective residents would be offered five house prototypes, one of which was submitted in detail to Arts & Architecture in 1961.

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Eichler Homes, Inc. selected a proposed site in the San Fernando Valley because it offered enough land within tree-covered acreage to set aside for community recreation areas for activities such as barbecuing, swimming, and horseback riding. And, connected pathways would allow for easy pedestrian access to these community facilities. To make space for the expansive shared areas, the lot size was reduced from 20,000 to 11,000 square feet per home.

The 1,736-square-foot prototype home featured four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a highly flexible floor plan that could be adapted to hillside lots with a slope variation of up to 10 feet in the length of the house. Or, the design could be built on the completely flat land. By integrating land contours into the building plans, the architects reinforced the concept of community living with visual unity from one house to the next, creating an overall cohesive look.

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The enclosed living area was comprised of three floor-to-ceiling glass walls which extended the actual living space to the retaining walls. Sliding glass doors offered access to the courtyards, and with the use of two fire pits, the outdoor space could be used almost year-round. This emphasis on indoor-outdoor living was not only in keeping with the trend seen in many previous Case Study Houses but an acknowledgment of what post-war buyers wanted in a new home.

Architect A. Quincy Jones saw the kitchen as the heart of most family activity and wanted to make it as multi-functional as possible. So, he split it in two. In addition to the main kitchen, a “scullery” acted as a second kitchen that could be closed off from the living area. The separation kept dishes and dinner clean-up out of sight, and allowed the owner to entertain guests at a moment’s notice by using the bar connected to the “actual” kitchen and living room.

By including a rooftop circulating water system, the architects provided an energy-efficient solution to maintaining a comfortable living temperature during the hottest LA weather. A reservoir with three or four inches of water remained on the roof, while water supplied by a sprinkler system increased evaporation and maximized the cooling effect. This reservoir also collected overflow water that was used for irrigation.

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Another forward-thinking design element was the fact that this house included a semi-underground floor plan. The architects planned for a partially underground structure to minimize noise from adjacent homes and provide some extra privacy. The earth banks also helped with temperature control, which made the structure, even more, energy efficient. Landscaping also played a part, with plenty of shade trees strategically placed to block both sound and light.

Ultimately, the housing development was never built. Architect A. Quincy Jones poured his heart into the meticulous design, but home buyers weren’t ready to embrace the concept of communal living. An emphasis on individual land ownership was going strong, and negative attitudes toward communal facilities made the project a longshot from the get go.

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