2 young women, sitting and chatting on a Saturday night. Lights from the overhead bulbs light the glass room and their dresses. They are sitting and chatting above the traffic and confusion of LA. The angular steel of the house makes a frame around the friends and the actual architecture seems to fall away. This architectural photograph seems less about the architecture and more about relationships.
Sometimes a picture comes along and just smacks you in the face. This is that picture for me. This is the image that made me want to focus on architectural photography.
In May 1960, there was no photoshop and Julius “One Shot” Schulman was THE architectural photographer of this day. In an interview in Los Angeles Magazine, Schulman discusses the making of this iconic image.
It was a warm night and Schulman was inside photographing the interior. He stepped outside for something and saw the view and the 2 girls sitting there having a conversation. He told his assistant he was changing the composition and they set up their shot. The only posing of the women was them being asked to sit in those chairs and carry on chatting.
Now this is the bit that I like. The geeky bit. This is a multiple exposure image captured in camera. First, all the lights were turned off and the bulbs in the overhead lights replaced with flash bulbs. He told the ladies that when he called out, they were to hold the pose they were in. He then pushed the shutter and kept it open. After 7 minutes to expose for the exterior he turned the lights on and exposed for the inside. And so in just over 7 minutes an iconic image was created.
But what about the house? As an architect, that’s probably more what you’re into.
In an article in Curbed, titled “Creating the Iconic Stahl House“, Jeffrey Head goes into detail in his 2017 article. This house is one of the most famous houses in LA, it’s been used in numerous movies and adverts and yet no one famous ever lived there. Just 2 newlyweds who built their dream home.
Buck and Carlotta Stohl lived in rented accommodation overlooking this ridge. One day they decided to have a look at “their” lot. By chance, the owner of the lot was there.An hour or so later, Buck had bought it for $13,500. A $100 deposit there and then secured the deal.
After 4 years, they had paid off the land and it was theirs. During this time Buck had prepared the lot by levelling it out and building up the edges with concrete he got free from building sites. He spent evenings and weekends travelling around building sites collecting this. A developer showed him how to lay and stack the concrete. He built a wall and terraces out of broken pieces of concrete. He used granite from the site and surrounding area, instead of cement, to fill in any gaps in the concrete slabs. Architects told him that this was still not going to make the property any better for building.
As the end of the loan was in sight, Buck built a scale model of his dream home. A home with a lot of glass to take in the views and a butterfly roof combined with flat roof areas. Then they began looking for an architect.
The couple decided on 3 architects, Craig Ellwood, Pierre Koenig, and one more whom she did not remember. Ellwood and the unidentified architect came to the lot and said they were crazy. And that they’ll never be able to build up here. Koenig and Stahl clicked and they loved Koenigs attitude and how he just wanted to work with them.
The final design of the home removed the butterfly roof, replacing it with a flat roof. The expanse of glass dictated a steel frame construction, which was not a common choice in home building of that time. The home was designed as 2 rectangular boxes in an L shape. Koenig aligned the house so that the roof and structural cantilever mirrored the grid-like arrangement of the streets below the lot.
With the design complete, the Stahl’s had to secure funding and this was no easy task due to the unconventional construction and location of the home, banks were loath to provide loans. Eventually they secured loans from 2 banks. One for $34,000 for the construction of the house and one for $3,800 for the pool.
Koenig submitted the plans for the house in July 1958. Unfortunately as the house was not of the typical shingle tiles and picket fence design he ran into obstacles. The city did not consider the house up to code due to the materials and location and so would not approve construction.
In a move typical of Koenig, he drew up detailed technical drawings to show the planners and allow discussions to take place. Finally in January 1959 the plans were approved.
In contrast to the lengthy planning stage, the framing was completed in 1 day by 5 men.
The challenges of building were known, and they primarily related to the lot. “There’s very little land situated on this eagle nest high above Sunset Boulevard,” Koenig explained in the documentary film about the Case Study House Program. “So the swimming pool and the garage went on the best part, mainly because who wants to spend a lot of money supporting swimming pools and garages? And it’s very hard to support a pool on the edge of a cliff. The house it could handle. So the house is on the precarious edge.”
With the exception of the steel-frame fireplace (chimney and flue were prefabricated and brought to the site), Koenig used only two types of standard structural steel components: 12-inch beams and 4-inch H columns. The result is a profound demonstration of Koenig’s technical and aesthetic expertise with rigid-frame construction. The elimination of load-bearing walls on this scale represented the most advanced use of technology and materials for residential architecture ever.
The Stahl House became Case Study House No. 22 in the most informal way. With the success of Koenig’s Bailey House (CSH No. 21), Entenza told Koenig if he had another house for the program, to let him know. Koenig told him about his next project, the Stahl House.
In April 1959, months before construction started, Entenza and the Stahls signed an exclusive agreement indicating the house would become known as Case Study House No. 22 and appear in Arts & Architecture magazine. This also meant the house would be made available for public viewings over eight consecutive weekends and Entenza had the rights to publish photographs and materials in connection with the house. Additionally, he had approval of the furnishings. (He included an option for the Stahls to buy any or all of the furnishings at a discount.)
By agreeing to make their house CSH No. 22, the Stahls were making their dream home more affordable. Equipment and material suppliers sold at cost in exchange for advertising space in the magazine. The arrangement gave Koenig the opportunity to negotiate further with vendors, since he was likely to use them in the future. Buck estimated in his interview with Ethington that it “ended up saving us conservatively $10,000 or $15,000” on the construction.
The house was featured in Arts & Architecture four times between May 1959 and May 1960, in articles documenting its progress and completion.
Arts & Architecture only ended up opening the house for public viewings on four weekends, from May 7 to May 29, 1960. The showings were well attended, and the shorter schedule meant the Stahls could move into the house sooner.
The full article goes into a lot more depth, but this gives you a short summary of the building. This house has not undergone many changes to its structure over the years and you can still get tours of it if you’re ever out in LA.
I hope you found this post informative and please leave any comments below. Thanks for reading.