Wednesday, May 7, 2014

West Ridge Architecture #7, Modest Modernism on Jarvis

In 1945 a group of architects got together at the editorial offices of Arts and Architecture magazine to develop a program of residential housing that they hoped would define the shape and form of post-war living.  The results were the Case Study Houses, which were published in that magazine from 1945 through 1964.  These were intended to make use of new materials developed during war-time, to be easily duplicated, and of course, to be affordable.
Entenza Case Study House #9, 1949 (Eames and Saarinen)
3128 and 3130 W. Jarvis, 1957
These prototypes generated a lot of interest.  With some exceptions high-style modernist variations on the single-family home never filled the new neighborhoods and suburbs of post-war America.  The building industries didn't instantly adopt new materials and construction methods and the American public reaffirmed its long-time preference for traditional styles of architecture.  Some of these modernist homes were built, but generally they were unique, built for a specific site and client.   That's not to say some builders and developers didn't make periodic forays into what is now considered the mid-century modern style.
Above are two homes which make a nod towards the steel and glass aesthetic of the Case Study homes.  But just a nod.  Like you might nod to someone at the bus stop who looks familiar.  Take note of the large windows, the off-set canted roofs, the clerestories, the rectilinear orientation, etc.  But also note that nothing is too far out of line from what is seen on the more traditional-styled colonials of the same period.  The picture windows are just picture windows, not floor to ceiling glass.  The flat roofs are just stick-built roofs with projecting eaves, not steel cantilevers.

The building industries did modernize after WWII, but not in the way proposed by Arts and Architecture.  Instead the industry standardized traditional construction elements (roofs, floors, walls), which could be combined like Legos and cheaply assembled block after block.

As much as I admire the Case Study homes they really seem huge compared to what can be fit onto a standard Chicago lot.  Each of these homes on Jarvis are on a 30' x 124' lot.   But I like how they mirror each other, giving the impression of a much larger, symmetrical home. And their alternating use of brick and permastone make them look unified, but not identical. They probably haven't drastically transformed the lives of the people who have lived there, but I doubt the Case Study houses did that either.


  1. Google Streetview is obscured by trees.... but now I know what I'm doing Saturday.

  2. I hope I haven't created unrealistic expectations! Sometimes I think these posts are best used to spot similar buildings and patterns on every block in every neighborhood.

  3. Oh, we'd seen those houses before. I recognized them when we walked by. There were two beautiful cats sunning themselves on one of the porches. Apart from not drawing in the cats, I think you're research and pictures are excellent! Always a pleasure to read and has given me an appreciation for mid-century buildings. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for commenting! Except for the bungalows I really think West Ridge buildings are underappreciated.

  5. interesting. I've been wandering around the area behind Howard and Western, looking at the fancy mid-century homes there. They also remind me of these showcase homes, though some of the enclave are apartments. I posted some photos today, if you haven't been back there:

    1. d'oh! Of course, that's the former Sanitarium grounds! and you've already written about it! I'll make a link to your article on the Fresh Air Hospital and it will all make sense. hopefully.

  6. Thanks Raymond. Those houses have also caught my eye, not just from an architectural standpoint, but also because of its site planning, which must have been cutting-edge at the time. Still looking for some type of record or article that will bring that development into focus.