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Craig Ellwood and Case Study House #16
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In 1945, John Entenza had a bold idea. As the editor of Arts + Architecture magazine, Etenza was an early evangelist for modernism, which still enjoyed less than mainstream appeal. Seeking to demonstrate that aesthetic experimental housing could be as comfortable and affordable as traditional housing, he came up with a pretty innovative concept. Enter the Case Study program, a project offering architects the opportunity to design cost-effective prototypical homes utilizing direct discounts from building products manufacturers. All of the homes were to be featured in future issues of Arts + Architecture magazine. The program was launched in Southern California and slew of talented young architects enlisted, including Charles Eames, Eero Saarienen, Pierre Koening, Ralph Rapson and the protagonist of today’s post, Craig Ellwood.
Craig Ellwood was born Jon Nelson Burke in Clarendon, Texas. His family moved West, ultimately settling in Los Angeles. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Ellwood made his way back to L.A. where he worked in construction and general contracting. Along with his brother Cleve and two friends, Ellwood formed his first company. They named the enterprise ‘Craig Ellwood’, inspired in part by the group’s favorite liquor store, Lords and Elwood. The moniker was impactful enough that Jon Burke would go on to legally take the name for himself in 1951.
While working with his brother, Ellwood gained invaluable experience on new home builds across the Los Angeles area, becoming especially skilled as a construction cost estimator. This intimate familiarity with building materials would benefit him greatly in the next phase of his career. For over five years, Ellwood also studied structural engineering through UCLA extension night school. Although not technically an architect, Ellwood started to receive his first commissions to design private residences based on his reputation in the industry. In 1951, his new company, Craig Ellwood Design, was formed.
Just one year in and still green in his career in custom home design, Ellwood became the latest recruit of the Case Study Program. Case Study House No. 16, built in 1952, followed shortly after. It was the first of three houses Ellwood created for the Arts & Architecture magazine program. Today, house #16 is the only of the three still intact.
The Case Study House no. 16 was designed for a gorgeous hillside site in Bel Air with sweeping city views. The steel-and-glass house is enclosed with floating screens rather than floor-to-ceiling partitions, ensuring ample access to the best views. Fir frames the glass planes to create a warm contrast to the painted steel. A natural rock fireplace anchors the space, extending through glass walls onto a covered patio. The layout exemplifies the indoor-outdoor tenet of the Case Study program. Still in near original condition today, the home is currently recognized as a city landmark by the Los Angeles Conservancy.
“I was never tied to standard detailing or inhibited from trying out new methods. When you haven’t been taught that some detail is impossible, you approach it with confidence and innocence.” -Craig Ellwood
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