Case Study House #6 “Omega” and Case Study House #13 “Alpha”: Neighborhoods Redefined by a Thought Experiment

When Arts & Architecture first launched the Case Study Program, editor John Entenza bought a five­acre site in the Pacific Palisades for construction where the model homes would create a neighborhood. But, as the program moved forward, the magazine scrapped that idea in favor of a focus on individual homes situated on lots throughout LA. Each home showcased a distinct style, and they varied in form and function. Neutra’s “Alpha” and “Omega” are the exception. Next up in the series, we’ll take a look at how his elaborate narrative of imaginary clients introduced modern architecture to the traditional neighborhood.

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Case Study Houses #6 and #13 began as a “thought experiment,” which put Neutra’s house plans in the context of being commissioned by two fictitious families, the Alphas and Omegas. He described the two families as married brothers and sisters, with five children among them, who wanted to live in complementary houses on adjoining lots.

Neutra encouraged the reader to assume the role of the Omegas, and used his story to explore bigger concepts of modern architecture. His f​irst article​focused on the construction of the “Omega House”, while the ssecond article​highlighted the “Alpha House” in terms of neighborhood planning.

The Omega House floor plan was arranged in the shape of a cross. Neutra originally designed the “Four Courter” house with his son in 1944, and Mrs. Omega references his previous design in her request for the “four­court idea” which she “saw some illustrations a few years ago.”

The cross­shaped design created a close relationship between the courtyards and interior rooms, and Neutra sketched each courtyard space from the interior vantage point to illustrate how they worked together. For instance, the kitchen provided a clear view of the service court, so Mrs. Omega could watch the kids playing outside.

Neutra sequentially numbered the courtyards to help readers understand the spatial experience of the design. Courtyard 1, or C1, was the “entrance court,” which “preserves and respects the privacy of others.” C2 was called the “social court,” and was meant to be an extension of living quarters for sunbathing or casual dining. C3 was the “sports court,” meant for active pastimes and directly connected to the bathroom of the house. C4 could be accessed off service rooms of the house, and provided a large outdoor space intended as a play area for the children of the household. With sliding glass doors and windows throughout, each courtyard provided its own views of the social activities taking place inside the home just as much as the home provided views looking out.

The Omegas asked Neutra to “pioneer with moderation,” which set the stage for a debate over the best overall shape for a house. Omega asks, “Why has not contemporary architecture started on a path of some doctrinally tenets too? Take the flat roof idea. Are you giving us a flat roof?” By choosing to discuss the roof, Neutra takes the most identifiable characteristic of modern architecture to task.

At the time, developers were hesitant to embrace the flat roof trend. They thought the look of flat roof homes simply wouldn’t fit in with existing subdivisions. In defense of the flat roof, Neutra starts by pointing out that it’s much more than an arbitrary style decision. By taking regional and technical considerations into account, it just made sense.

Neutra compared modern flat roof homes to the architecture styles of the West, such as the buildings of early Los Angelenos and Shoshone Indians. Plus, flat roofs are easier to construct. Neutra added a slight pitch to his roofs to allow water to easily run off the angled plane.

The Alpha and Omega homes intentionally looked alike, to demonstrate the bigger concept of neighborhood identity. In his article on the Alpha House, Neutra wrote, “In appearance this house has been designed with constant thought for its relation with its neighbor. The same facing and finishing materials, as well as the same fixtures are used.” By creating a cohesive look, he emphasized the importance of neighborhood planning in the context of modern architecture.

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