Case Study House #4: Bringing the Outdoors In

Up next in the series, we’ll take a look at C​ase Study House #4, ​designed by Ralph Rapson for Arts & Architecture magazine at just 31 years old. His design remained unbuilt at the time, but was eventually constructed in 1989 as part of the indoor exhibit “Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses” at the​ M​useum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.​

Rapson was known for adding such whimsical touches as jeeps, commuter helicopters and caricaturized people to add life to his renderings.

Rapson was known for adding such whimsical touches as jeeps, commuter helicopters and caricaturized people to add life to his renderings.

Rapson’s unique challenge was to create a house for an urban lot with much less acreage than the other Case Study properties. But, he used the space constraint to his advantage by creating an inward­ facing design that focused on an interior courtyard he dubbed the “Greenbelt,” which gave the Greenbelt House its name. Two pavilions comprised the bedrooms and living area, with the glass­ covered courtyard centrally located for easy access from both sides.
According to Rapson, the Greenbelt House was designed to “bring nature within the house—not in small, pretty, planted areas but in a large scale that will do justice to nature.”

Rapson Greenbelt Perspective small

The concept of bringing the outside in had a distinct trickle ­down effect, particularly on the design of Eichler homes. Eichler’s signature concepts of floor ­to ­ceiling glass walls paired with atriums and interior spaces reinforced the idea that the house and site were extensions of each other.
This Case Study House was also among the first to introduce an energy saving approach to building design. Rapson’s sketches included sprinklers or water ponds on the roof to allow for passive cooling, which would improve the indoor temperature with little or no energy consumption. He also designed the glass­ roofed courtyard with adjustable louvers to control light and heat to save additional energy.

Rapson submitted an updated version of Case Study House #4 to the Dwell Magazine Invitational in 2003, which invited 16 architects to submit modern prefab designs. Nathan Weiler went on to launch a series of modular houses based on Rapson’s prototype in the early 2000’s, as part of his construction and development company based in North Carolina.

On March 29, 2008, Rapson passed away at the age of 93. He was still practicing architecture until the day before his death.

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Jane Patton

Jane Patton received a B.A. in journalism from Columbia College, and studied graphic design in the continuing studies program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She grew up in Southern California, and is a passionate enthusiast and collector of Mid-Century art and furniture.

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