In designing his (unbuilt) house Whitney Smith prioritized the connection to outdoor space. Visit the place in 3D!
In designing his (unbuilt) house for the Arts & Architecture Case Study programme, Whitney Smith, like Richard Neutra, prioritized the connection to outdoor space. His motivation, however, was more specific than a desire to extend the living area of a small house. Rather, he wanted to create a highly personal space, geared to the passion of his hypothetical client. Seeing conventional plans as a straitjacket for residents who craved appropriate working space within their home (be it a sewing studio or a photography darkroom), he aspired to fit this house to the needs of a keen horticulturalist.
Taking his cue from the lath houses used by gardeners to provide shelter from sun and wind, without entirely enclosing growing plants, Smith placed two such structures at either end of the long living area: one at the main entrance, one behind the fireplace opposite. Moving through the 3D model created by Archilogic, one can see how this arrangement ensured that a lavish array of plants would always be visible, from any position in the living/dining room. Smith was excited about the rich contrasts this afforded – forest-like shade against sun and fire – and the inviting transition from outdoor to indoor space. This long room would provide a sense of “openness and shelter” corresponding to the function of the lath house, as well as greenery.
The other wing of the house – branching off from the main entrance at 90 degrees to the lounge – offers a distinct functional zone, with bedrooms facing a sun terrace and isolated from the living zone by indoor planting as well as cupboard placement. Further retreat is possible with the “extra room”: an entirely separate unit, linked only by the covered car port and enjoying its own bathroom and walled garden, making it suitable for anyone from a housekeeper to a teenage child itching for independence.
Smith designed the house to sit on, and exploit, a gently sloping site. Variation in ground level would enhance the separation of different zones, with the passageway to the bedrooms reached via a few downward steps. Materials were chosen to ensure continuity with the environment and the lath-house motif: a rock-and-mortar retaining wall; wood-frame construction, with horizontal laths on the sun terrace fence as well as the actual lath houses, which formed key visual elements, from the first approach to the back of the house. And, of course, the familiar expanses of glass sliding doors maximize light and enjoyment of the outdoor space, in both the living and private zones.
House #12 is another striking example of the Californian modernism so prevalent in the Case Study programme, an aesthetic that broke with decorative tradition to emphasise sleek, underdesigned open spaces and celebrate the sunny Los Angeles landscape. This outdoorsy, light-filled concept was enormously influential in the subsequent decades; but, being tied so strongly to situation, it arguably betrays the “Case Study” concept. Despite their powerful appeal, these are not houses that could easily be transplanted to other locations. And this house, relying so strongly on a gardener’s passion, is one of the least translatable of the whole series. All the more fun, then, to walk through the virtual model and enjoy it for what it is – a fantasy. Or perhaps, with Archilogic's model, you could redecorate it to suit a non-plant-lover?