AT HOME WITH TOMORROW
Carl Koch with Andy Lewis
Carl Koch with Andy Lewis: AT HOME WITH TOMORROW. NYC: Rinehart Rinehart and Company, Inc., 1958. First edition. A very good hardcover book bound in full, decorated cloth in a very good dust jacket with light wear to the edges. Interior unmarked and very clean. Out-of-print. Outstanding dust jacket design by Gyorgy Kepes.
10 x 7.5 hardcover book with 208 pages and b/w illustrations, diagrams, models and plans. Primay photography by Ezra Stoller. Carl Koch was one of the pioneers in the prefabricated housing market after World War II with his Acorn, Conantum, and Techbuilt Houses.
When the veterans came home from World War II, eager to use their VA loans to put roofs over the heads of their families, America's new suburbs bloomed with varieties of updated traditional houses. While most buyers preferred a vaguely "Early American" look, the prolonged building drought brought on by the Depression and the war years had interrupted another architectural trend that was now poised to make postwar reentry.
The Modernist Movement, springing from primarily Germany via the Bauhaus, had formed tentative roots in 1930s America. Before the war, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe accepted positions on the faculties of some of this country's most prestigious architectural schools. There, they trained a generation of students in the discipline of Modernist design. In the process, they changed the way houses would look and the way Americans would look at their houses. The Modern approach to design was in every sense more than a style--it was a cause.
Of course, not all modern houses followed the strict, rectilinear forms favored by the Bauhaus and the International School. Most people preferred to come home to a less rigidly geometric environment. They wanted clean lines and glass to bring the outdoors in, or to move the indoors out. They wanted rooms with a minimum of walls, so that living areas flowed easily into each other and blended effortlessly with their surroundings. They wanted their home to be oriented toward the back--not the front--of its building lot, with rear-facing walls of glass borrowing visually from the outer spaces.
In 1945, John Entenza, the editor of Art + Architecture magazine, began the Case Study Housing program, to demonstrate that small houses could incorporate excellent design at affordable prices by using innovative building materials such as metal and plywood, mass production methods, such as paneled exterior walls, and prefabricated elements that had been developed for the war effort. The houses were sophisticated, livable, and widely admired by designers and architects here and abroad. Unfortunately, they were also expensive, being made of materials that required different skills than most construction workers had to offer. They were also not popular with a buying public that still had its heart set on cozy brick-and-wood cottages rather than coolly elegant steel-and-glass boxes.
A similar fate met a number of building experiments that used unorthodox materials. The porcelain steel prefabricated Lustron house, for example, was sturdy and attractive in its chilly way, but it was not well enough received to make mass production economically feasible.
That's not to say that mass production didn't make any headway in the homebuilding industry. William and Al Levitt's various Levittowns, depended heavily on assembly line processes. Only in this case, the workers, not the product, were moving from place to place--a method the Levitts learned building defense housing during the war. They found, however, that their Modern model couldn't hold a candle to their popular Cape Cod.
Other mass builders and developers found willing buyers for Modern houses, albeit in smaller numbers and at somewhat higher prices than the Levitts. These developers offered models that have been called Soft Modern, which eased the lines of the box and may owe more to Frank Lloyd Wright's organic approach than the Bauhaus.
Techbuilt Houses, partly prefabricated, were not-too-modern houses designed by architect Carl Koch and built with considerable success in the 1960s. They demonstrated once again that mass-produced, standardized building parts could be put together in highly individual ways.
Ironically, the Modern house may be about as popular today as it was in the 1950s. In fact, now that 1950s suburbs are finding their way onto local, state, and national lists of historic landmarks, they have a trendy cachet that just may be even brighter than it was half a century ago.
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