John Entenza, editor of Arts and Architecture Magazine founded the Case Study House project in 1945. It became the most influential residential experiment the U.S. had ever seen. Through the influence of the case study house project, his ambition to portray the effective use of steel construction, and the demands of his clients: Carlotta and Buck Stahl, came one of Pierre Koenig’s most successful projects: ‘Case Study House number 22’ or ‘Stahl house’.
To understand the purpose of Stahl house, one must understand the purpose of the Case Study House project. Ethel Buisson and Thomas Billard explain that ‘The CSH program also serves to call into question past standards of living, a questioning with desire to reformulate the house. In this light Entenza reintegrates the architect, engineer, designer and user into the thinking and making “process”.’
The original concept was envisioned by Buck Stahl. He wanted a modernist glass and steel constructed house that offered panoramic views of Los Angeles. Buck took on the role of contractor and architect until 1957 when Koenig took on the project. The Stahl children say the initial concept of the home was their father’s, though it’s possible he may have been influenced by Koenig’s other work when building the model.
Stahl house is considered to be a prominent player in the modernist movement. It is perched high in the Hollywood Hills and considered Southern California’s archetypal ‘good-life’ house. The house is made of a steel and glass frame. A house seemingly without walls, it is a space where the inside becomes the outside and the city enters on every side. The roof’s large overhang is reflected in a pool surrounded by narrow pavement. The overhang prevents the house’s interior from overheating in the summer. Sunlight during winter is allowed to penetrate the home, facilitated by 10 feet wide and 7.5 feet high sliding glass doors.
The main entrance to the home is located on the western end by the carport. Entering here you are immediately confronted by the pool and an unescapable view of the Los Angeles skyline. The L-shaped roof hangs above, shooting east before sharply pointing south out over the Hollywood hillside. The scene is one of raw post-war greys, ubiquitous greenery and the Californian blue sky reflected in the pool’s cool water.
The home can be entered via one of the many sliding glass doors which also allow for optimal ventilation. The first of these welcomes you into the children’s bedroom where you first begin to realise how open the plan is. It is a space 11 metres wide and 11 metres long. Moving east you are met by a sliding door leading you into the master bedroom, an area 11.5 metres by 11.5 metres. Both bedrooms have unobstructed views of the the pool and LA below.
Facing east, you are greeted by two sliding doors. The one on the left leads you into a dressing room followed by the bathroom. These are two undivided spaces comprising 11 metres by 7.5 metres in total. In the master bedroom, the door directly in front leads you into the kitchen area. When both of the doors are unshut, the space becomes vast and yawning.
The kitchen door acts as a pivot point in the L-shape between the night time zone behind you and the daytime zone ahead. Moving through the bedroom, you are now in the dining/living space which perches out onto the hillside like a bird, an image accentuated by a 5 metre roof overhang. The open living area is centered around a unique steel frame fireplace, behind which lies Koenig’s characteristic kitchen of unified prefabricated cabinets, two stainless steel ovens and a stainless steel sink. Beyond this is a small room containing a toilet and behind that lies the bathroom and dressing room.
Standing beside the pool and looking into the house through the glass façade, the open plan is particularly striking. It is the physical reality of long stretching spaces, partially divided yet accessible throughout by its occupants. It is a glorious free-flowing space exposed to the LA skyline.