Case Study House #8: A Masterpiece in Modernism

Up next in the series, let’s take a look at the most widely ­recognized Case Study Home, and one of the most influential landmarks of modern architecture. Perched atop a 150­foot cliff in the Pacific Palisades, Case Study House #8, known as the Eames House, attracts visitors from around the world. In the words of Arts & Architecture Editor John Entenza, the house

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“represented an attempt to state an idea rather than a fixed architectural pattern.”

Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen joined forces to create the first house plan, known as the “Bridge House.” Charles and Ray Eames were the clients themselves, and designed the home for a married couple working in the arts whose children no longer lived at home. The house was created as a background for, as Charles would say, “life in work” and with nature as a “shock absorber.”

In keeping with the idea of mass production, the design included prefabricated building materials ordered from catalogues. But, after World War II, these goods were in short supply. The Bridge House design was published in the D​ecember 1945 issue​of Arts and Architecture, but the building materials didn’t arrive until three years later.

In the meantime, Charles and Ray set out to look for a plot of land, and finally settled on a three­acre site overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s a flat parcel on otherwise steep land that creates a retaining wall to the west.

By then, Ray had “fallen in love with the meadow,” and decided that the original house plan wasn’t right for the location. Charles and Ray set themselves a new challenge: how to build a house that would preserve the meadow and “maximize volume from minimal materials.”

Together, they reconfigured the design using the same off­the­shelf parts, with the exception of just one extra steel beam. Arts & Architecture published the new plans in May 1949, and Charles and Ray moved into the house on Christmas Eve of that same year. They lived there for the rest of their lives.

The house was designed to seamlessly incorporate ample space for work and play into one single abode made up of two double­height pavilions. One houses a residence, and the other included a studio and workshop space. This “separate­but­close” layout was perfect for shifting from work to relaxation by simply moving to another room.

In contrast to the ultra­modern steel exterior, the interior of the house is surprisingly warm and inviting. Soft light enhances the wood­block floor throughout the day, and floating staircases effortlessly connect the lower and upper levels.

The space flows naturally, with no major divisions other than the separation of the two structures, which still merge in the courtyard. Even the master bedroom overlooks the public living room with a short terrace. Generous use of natural materials throughout highlight the concept of blending the house with the outdoors, and the Eames added a row of eucalyptus trees out front for extra privacy and shade.

If you’re in the LA area, check it out in person! Touring the exterior is easy to do with a simple reservation. It’s open every day except Wednesdays, Sundays and holidays.

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