The dawn of a new year makes anything seem possible. In January 1945 John Entenza, the ambitious editor of a small-time Californian magazine called Arts & Architecture, conceived and announced The Case Study House Program that set out to “begin immediately the study, planning, actual design and construction of eight houses, each to fulfil the specifications of a special living problem in the Southern California area”. There was never a better example of the architectural press directing, rather than simply reflecting, the shape of the built environment. Acting as client, the magazine commissioned top US architects to design eight houses that would become inexpensive, replicable prototypes, demonstrating how good modern design, manufacturing methods and materials could help ameliorate the anticipated deficiencies in post-war housing. The houses would be built, furnished and temporarily opened to the public as show-houses, before being occupied. Of course, they would also be published in the pages of Arts & Architecture alongside carefully chosen complementary advertisers such as Herman Miller, Architectural Pottery and Knoll, who furnished the houses. Like all great editors, Entenza was a lightning rod for attracting talent. Architects contributing to the program included Eero Saarinen, Richard Neutra, Charles Eames, Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig among others. Incidentally, Arts & Architecture was later also the first to publish Paul Rudolph, Harry Seidler and Frank Gehry. The Case Study House Program was so successful that 36 houses were eventually commissioned and published, with 24 being built over 21 years, including the Eames house and Entenza’s own house on adjacent plots (numbers 8 and 9, published December 1945, May 1949 and July 1950). However few, if any, of the houses were replicated. What the program ultimately delivered was a beautiful set of stylised drawings and photographs forming an influential chunk of the post-war Modernist architectural canon.
Playboy March 1969 March, 1969. As the US was about to be distracted from the disaster that was Vietnam by landing on the moon, Playboy magazine published a lengthy interview with Canadian father of media studies and patron saint of Wired magazine, Marshall McLuhan. In nearly 14 pages of solid text, McLuhan talks about how society is only able to be consciously aware of the environment that has preceded it and how new media simultaneously extend the senses and numb them: “Narcissus narcosis, a syndrome whereby man remains as unaware of the psychic and social effects of his new technology as a fish of the water it swims in.” He goes on to explain how “the visual function was overdeveloped” and how visual space replaced acoustic space of tribal man. He then gets a little hallucinogenic, predicting the return of tribal man living in “cosmic harmony”. There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. In another article in the same magazine, Arthur C. Clarke predicts that the solar sy
Michael Ventris (1922-1956) graduated from the AA in 1948. However, he will be remembered as the man who deciphered Linear B – an early form of Greek script used for writing Mycenaean. After hearing Sir Arthur Evans say that the Minoan tablets hadn’t yet been deciphered in 1936, he made it his life’s goal. By the age of 8 he spoke 5 European languages and throughout his life, he picked them up in a matter of months. He amazed his friends from the AA, Oliver Cox and Graeme Shankland, by slipping into the native tongue when they travelled to Italy and worked in Sweden together. Cox and Ventris’s entry to the T.U.C. Memorial Building competition were published in the AJ of 22.07.48. Ventris’ mother was friends with the art world’s leading lights like Gabo and Moore. Breuer made their furniture and Gropius personally advised the young Ventris to go to the AA. But he had a brilliant, analytic mind that produced sterile architecture. The design for his own house, which appeared in C
AD & C March 1935 The 1930s was a golden era of apartment building. Fitted kitchens and bathrooms started to become normal, alongside the hi-tech luxuries of central heating and electric sockets. In March 1935, Architectural Design and Construction (AD’s forerunner) published a reference section on “Bathrooms fit to sing in”. The author mocks the new-fangled kitchen appliances and asks “where ... is the automatic body washer?” One hears the clipped accent of the nascent BBC’s Queen’s English echo from the page: “It would be quite simple – just a matter of rotating brushes, scurrying flannels, and self-lathering soap” instilling a vision of a body-washing machine akin to a carwash sitting in the corner of the bathroom. The market became flooded with manufacturers offering sanitary ware of multiple uncoordinated sizes. The International Bath Association (I.B.A.) was set up and called for standardisation to address these pressing problems. It worked: “even such tremendous trifle