Case Study House #9: Modernist Architecture as a Social Setting – The “Entenza House”

Next up in the series, let’s take a look at a house designed by two luminaries of midcentury design, Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, for Arts & Architecture editor John Entenza himself: Case Study House #9, ​or the “Entenza House.”

Built on a bluff above the Pacific in 1950, the Entenza House is considered the twin of the Eames House in terms of structure and building materials. But, the similarities stop there. The Eames house is horizontal while the Entenza house is vertical, and perhaps more importantly, they fulfill totally different needs.

When Entenza wasn’t at work on the magazine, he got down to the business of throwing parties. He envisioned a house built for entertaining, and wanted a space suitable for large dinner parties and informal gatherings alike. In response, Eames and Saarinen sketched out a massive 36­foot long living room along with two bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen. A soundproof, windowless study was really the only private space in the house.
Since the main living area was a vast, continuous space, there was a need for some delineation. Rather than adding walls, Eames and Saarinen opted for a sunken living room — a hot trend at the time. Done right, the design creates a separate but not isolated vibe from the

rest of the living space. Just a few steps down gave the “conversation pit” a hint of intimacy. The elevation change also increased living space by creating informal seats, which were perfect for Entenza’s social gatherings.

The house was designed according to the principle of “elastic space,” an idea that the architects used to create space that could expand or contract depending on how many people were occupying it at any given time. The goal was to create a spacious interior within a minimal structure.

To achieve that objective, they placed four steel columns at the center, which allowed cross bracing and continuity while transmitting most of the weight to the perimeter. The result was a structurally sound architectural concept, unlike the Eames House, which was structurally assertive.

According to Project Engineer Edgardo Contini, “The intention of the Entenza House is to remove the structure to become an anti­structural construction, structural presence as anonymous as possible. In this house, the beams are not expressed, the columns are not visible.”

When it was finally ready in 1949, the house became the first of the program to have a steel and glass structure with concealed­within plaster and wood­paneled surfaces interiors.
Entenza lived and worked in the house for five years before putting it on the market, where it changed hands a number of times before it was converted into a guest house for a 9,500 square foot contemporary designed by Barry Berkus. The estate sold for $11.8 million in 2012.

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