For decades, the California Dream meant the chance to own a stucco home on a sliver of paradise. The point was the yard with the palm trees, not the contour of the walls. Julius Shulman helped change all that. In May 1960, the Brooklyn-born photographer headed to architect Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House, a glass-enclosed Hollywood Hills home with a breathtaking view of Los Angeles—one of 36 Case Study Houses that were part of an architectural experiment extolling the virtues of modernist theory and industrial materials. Shulman photographed most of the houses in the project, helping demystify modernism by highlighting its graceful simplicity and humanizing its angular edges. But none of his other pictures was more influential than the one he took of Case Study House No. 22. To show the essence of this air-breaking cantilevered building, Shulman set two glamorous women in cocktail dresses inside the house, where they appear to be floating above a mythic, twinkling city. The photo, which he called “one of my masterpieces,” is the most successful real estate image ever taken. It perfected the art of aspirational staging, turning a house into the embodiment of the Good Life, of stardusted Hollywood, of California as the Promised Land. And, thanks to Shulman, that dream now includes a glass box in the sky.
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"...Arriving in Southern California I found a similar inspiration in the new architecture of the Case Study House Program, and the work of Charles and Ray Eames, Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig. Koenig's architecture especially left an indelible impression.
"If I bring to mind what, for me, are some of the iconic images of twentieth-century architecture-light shining through the glass-block wall of the Maison de Verre, the volumetric clarity of the great workroom of Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax building, or the olympian roofscape of Le Corbusiers Unite in Marseilles-there is one image which burns more brightly and stays on the retina just that bit longer.
"I am thinking, of course, of the heroic night-time view of Pierre Koenig's Case Study House #22 which seems so memorably to capture the whole spirit of late twentieth-century architecture. There, hovering almost weightlessly above the bright lights of Los Angeles, spread out like a carpet below, is an elegant, light, economical and transparent enclosure whose apparent simplicity belies the rigorous process of investigation that made it possible. If I had to choose one snapshot, one architectural moment, of which I would like to have been the author, this is surely it.
"As both image and artefact, Case Study House #22 has long been a touchstone for contemporary architects, and Pierre Koenig's career-to which his wider body of work bears witness-is one of constancy, and truth to principles.
"Pierre Koenig, like his architecture, is inspirational: still enquiring, exploring and inventing, never ready to rest on his laurels. I am very pleased to be able to celebrate with him the publication of this book and to share in his enthusiasm and curiosity for building yet to come."
Norman Foster, in the foreword of Pierre Koenig, by James Steele, David Jenkins, 1998, p5.
The Creator's Words
"Industry has not learned the difference between what is beautiful in its simplicity and what is ugly although equally simple...."
"The pressure is so great that the architect is a captive. He functions best as a free agent."
Pierre Koenig. from Esther McCoy. Case Study Houses 1945-1962. p118.
In Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, at 1636 Woods Drive
area of house: 2300 square feet