Modern Houses, A Visual Tour of the 20th Century

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The Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House by Pritzker Prize Laureate Robert Venturi
A Postmodernist Architect Designs for His Mother The Vanna Venturi House near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Pritzker Prize Laureate Robert Venturi. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

The Modern and Postmodern architecture of these historic houses describes in photos the innovative approaches by a handful of architects. Browse this photo gallery to get a glimpse of the 20th century.

A House for Mom:

1961-1964: Postmodern house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Designed by Robert Venturi, a Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.

When architect Robert Venturi built this home for his mother, he shocked the world. Postmodern in style, the Vanna Venturi house flew in the face of Modernism and changed the way we think about architecture.

The design of Vanna Venturi House appears deceptively simple. A light wood frame is divided by a rising chimney. The house has a sense of symmetry, yet the symmetry is often distorted. For example, the façade is balanced with five window squares on each side. The way the windows are arranged, however, is not symmetrical. Consequently, the viewer is momentarily startled and disoriented. Inside the house, the staircase and chimney compete for the main center space. Both unexpectedly divide to fit around each other.

Combining surprise with tradition, the Vanna Venturi House includes numerous references to historic architecture. Look closely and you will see suggestions of Michaelangelo's Porta Pia in Rome, the  Nymphaeum by Palladio, Alessandro Vittoria's Villa Barbaro at Maser, and Luigi Moretti's apartment house in Rome.

The radical house Venturi built for his mother is frequently discussed in architecture and art history classes and has inspired the work of many other architects.

Learn More:

  • Mother's House: The Evolution of Vanna Venturi's House in Chestnut Hill by Robert Venturi, 1992
    Buy on Amazon
  • Film Reveals the 10 Buildings That Changed America
  • Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture
    In this groundbreaking book, published in 1966, Robert Venturi challenged modernism and celebrated the mix of historic styles in great cities like Rome.
    Buy on Amazon
  • Learning from Las Vegas
    Subtitled "The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form," this postmodernist classic called the "vulgar billboards" of the Vegas Strip emblems for a new architecture. Originally published in 1972, the book was written by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour, and Denise Scott Brown.
    Buy on Amazon
02
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The Walter Gropius House

New England details combine with Bauhaus ideas
Pictures of Modern Houses: Walter Gropius House The Walter Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Photo © Jackie Craven

1937: Bauhaus home of Walter Gropius in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Walter Gropius, architect.

New England details combine with Bauhaus ideas in the Massachusetts home of Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius. Take a short tour of the Gropius House >>

03
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Philip Johnson's Glass House

International Style
Pictures of Modern Houses: Philip Johnson's Glass House The International Style Glass House designed by Philip Johnson. Photo courtesy the National Trust

1949: International Style glass house in New Canaan, Connecticut, USA. Designed by Philip Johnson, a Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.

When people come into my house, I say "Just shut up and look around."
—Philip Johnson

The glass house designed by Philip Johnson has been called one of the world's most beautiful and yet least functional homes. Johnson did not envision it as a place to live so much as a stage... and a statement. The house is often cited as a model example of the International Style.

The idea of a house with glass walls was from Mies van der Rohe, who early on had realized the possibilities of glass-facade skyscrapers. As Johnson was writing Mies van der Rohe (1947), a debate ensued between the two men—was a glass house even possible to design? Mies was designing the glass-and-steel Farnsworth House in 1947 when Johnson bought an old dairy farm in Connecticut. On this land, Johnson experimented with fourteen "events," beginning with the 1949 completion of this glass house.

Unlike the Farnsworth House, Philip Johnson's home is symmetrical and sits solidly on the ground. The quarter-inch thick glass walls (the original plate glass was replaced with tempered glass) are supported by black steel pillars. The interior space is mainly divided by its furnishings—dining table and chairs; Barcelona chairs and rug; low walnut cabinets serve as a bar and kitchen; a wardrobe and bed; and a ten-foot brick cylinder (the only area that reaches the ceiling/roof) that contains the leather-tiled bathroom on one side and an open-hearthed fireplace on the other. The cylinder and the brick floors are a polished purple hue.

What Others Say:

Architecture Professor Paul Heyer comparing the Johnson house with Mies van der Rohe's:

"In Johnson's house the entire living space, to all corners, is more visible; and because it is broader—an area 32 feet by 56 feet with a 10 1/2-foot ceiling—it has a more centered feeling, a space where you have a greater sense of 'coming to res.' In other words, where Mies's is dynamic in feeling, Johnson's is more static."— Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America by Paul Heyer, 1966, p. 281

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger:

"...compare the Glass House to places like Monticello or Sir John Soane's Museum in London, both of which are structures that, like this one, are quite literally autobiographies written in the form of houses—amazing buildings in which the architect was the client, and the client was the architect, and the goal was to express in built form the preoccupations of a life....We could see that this house was, as I said, Philip Johnson's autobiography—all of his interests were visible, and all of his architectural preoccupations, beginning with his connection to Mies van der Rohe, and going on to his decorative classicism phase, which yielded the little pavilion, and his interest in an angular, crisp, more purely sculptural modernism, which brought forth the Sculpture Gallery."—" Philip Johnson's Glass House," a Lecture by Paul Goldberger, May 24, 2006 [accessed September 13, 2013]

About the Property:

Philip Johnson used his house as a "viewing platform" to look out at the landscape. He often used the term "Glass House" to describe the entire 47-acre site. In addition to the Glass House, the site has ten buildings designed by Johnson at different periods of his career. Three other older structures were renovated by Philip Johnson (1906-2005) and David Whitney (1939-2005), a renowned art collector, museum curator, and Johnson's long-time partner.

The Glass House was Philip Johnson's private residence, and many of his Bauhaus furnishings remain there. In 1986, Johnson donated the Glass House to the National Trust, but continued to live there until his death in 2005. The Glass House is now open to the public, with tours booked many months in advance. For information and tour reservations, visit theglasshouse.org.

04
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The Farnsworth House

The Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe
The Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe. Photo by Rick Gerharter / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images (cropped)

1945 to 1951: Glass-walled International Style home in Plano, Illinois, USA. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect.

Hovering in a green landscape, the transparent glass Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is often celebrated as his most perfect expression of the International Style. The house is rectangular with eight steel columns set in two parallel rows. Suspended between columns are two steel-framed slabs (the ceiling and the roof) and a simple, glass-enclosed living space and porch.

All the exterior walls are glass, and the interior is entirely open except for a wood paneled area containing two bathrooms, a kitchen and service facilities. The floors and exterior decks are Italian travertine limestone. The steel is sanded smooth and painted a gleaming white.

The Farnsworth House took six years to design and build. During this period, Philip Johnson built his famous Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. However, Johnson's home is symmetrical, ground-hugging structure with a very different atmosphere.

Edith Farnsworth was not happy with the house Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed for her. She sued Mies van der Rohe, claiming that the house was not livable. Critics, however, said that Edith Farnsworth was lovesick and spiteful.

Learn more about the Farnsworth House:

05
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Blades Residence

What is indoors, and what is out?
Pictures of Modern Houses: Blades Residence Blades Residence by Thom Mayne. Photo by Kim Zwarts courtesy of the Pritzker Prize Committee

1995: The modernist Blades Residence in Santa Barbara, California. Thom Mayne, architect.

Pritzker Prize winning architect Thom Mayne wanted to transcend the concept of a traditional suburban home when he designed the Blades Residence in Santa Barbara, California. Boundaries blur between indoors and out. The garden is an elliptical outdoor room that dominates the 4,800 square foot home.

The house was built for Richard and Vicki Blades.

06
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The Magney House

The Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt
The Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at http://www.ozetecture.org/2012/magney-house/ (adapted)

1982 - 1984: Energy-efficient design in New South Wales, Australia. Glenn Murcutt, architect.

Pritzker Prize winning architect Glenn Murcutt is known for his earth-friendly, energy-efficient designs. The Magney House stretches across a a barren, wind-swept site overlooking the ocean in New South Wales, Australia. The long low roof and large windows capitalize on natural sunlight.

Forming an asymmetrical V-shape, the roof also collects rainwater which is recycled for drinking and heating. Corrugated metal sheathing and interior brick walls insulate the home and conserve energy.

Louvered blinds at the windows help regulate the light and temperature.

07
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The Lovell House

Richard Neutra designed Lovell House, International Style, in Los Angeles, California
Richard Neutra designed Lovell House, International Style, in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Santi Visalli / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)

1927-1929: Landmark example of the International Style in Los Angeles. Richard Neutra, architect.

Completed in 1929, the Lovell House introduced the International Style to the United States. With its wide glass expanses, the Lovell House resembled European works by Bauhaus architects Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.

Europeans were impressed by the innovative structure of the Lovell House. The balconies were suspended by slender steel cables from the roof frame, and the pool hung in a U-shaped concrete cradle. Moreover, the building site posed an enormous construction challenge. It was necessary to fabricate the skeleton of the Lovell House in sections and transport it by truck up the steep hill.

08
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The Miller House

Desert Modernism by Richard Neutra
Pictures of Modern Houses: The Miller House Miller House by Richard Neutra. Photo © Flickr Member Ilpo's Sojourn

1937: The sleek glass and steel Miller House in Palm Springs, California is an example of Desert modernism.

The Miller House by architect Richard Neutra is constructed of glass and steel with reinforced concrete. Characteristic of Desert modernism and the International Style, the home is composed of taut plane surfaces with no ornamentation.

Learn More

  • Richard Neutra's Miller House by Stephen Leet, Princeton Architectural Press, 2004
    Buy on Amazon
09
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Luis Barragan House

Pictures of Modern Houses: Luis Barragan House (Casa de Luis Barragán) The Minimalist Luis Barragan House, or Casa de Luis Barragán, was the home and studio of Mexican architect Luis Barragán. This building is a classic example of the Pritzker Prize Laureate's use of texture, bright colors, and diffused light.
Pictures of Modern Houses: Luis Barragan House (Casa de Luis Barragán) The Minimalist Luis Barragan House, or Casa de Luis Barragán, was the home and studio of Mexican architect Luis Barragán. This building is a classic example of the Pritzker Prize Laureate's use of texture, bright colors, and diffused light. Photo © Barragan Foundation, Birsfelden, Switzerland/ProLitteris, Zurich, Switzerland cropped from pritzkerprize.com courtesy The Hyatt Foundation

1947: Minimalist home of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Luis Barragan, Tacubaya, Mexico City, Mexico

On a sleepy Mexican street, the former home of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Luis Barragán is quiet and unassuming. However, beyond its stark facade, the Barragán House is a showplace for his use of color, form, texture, light, and shadow.

Barragán's style was based on the use of flat planes (walls) and light (windows). The high-ceilinged main room of the house is partitioned by low walls. The skylight and windows were designed to let in plenty of light and to accentuate the shifting nature of the light throughout the day. The windows also have a second purpose - to let in views of nature. Barragán called himself a landscape architect because he believed that the garden was just as important as the building itself. The back of Luis Barragán House opens onto the garden, thus turning the outdoors into an extension of the house and architecture.

Luis Barragán was keenly interested in animals, particularly horses, and various icons drawn from popular culture. He collected representative objects and incorporated them into the design of his home. Suggestions of crosses, representative of his religious faith, appear throughout the house. Critics have called Barragán's architecture spiritual and, at times, mystical.

Luis Barragán died in 1988; his home is now a museum celebrating his work.

"Any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake."
- Luis Barragán, in Contemporary Architects

Learn More About Luis Barragan:

  • Architecture Week: Commentary and digital models of Barragán's house
  • Barrigan Foundation: Based in Birsfelden/Basel, Switzerland, the Barrigan Foundation takes care of the professional archive of the architect Luis Barragán and holds the copyright on his works
  • Luis Barragan: Mexico's Modern Master by Antonio R. Martinez, 1996
    Buy on Amazon
  • The Architecture of Luis Barragan by Stephen Silverman, 2013
    Buy on Amazon
10
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Case Study #8 by Charles and Ray Eames

The Eames House, also known as Case Study #8, by Charles and Ray Eames
The Eames House, also known as Case Study #8, by Charles and Ray Eames. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Archive Photos/Getty Images (cropped)

Designed by the husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames, Case Study House #8 set the standard for modern prefabricated architecture in the United States.

What Is a Case Study House?

Between 1945 and 1966, Art and Architecture magazine challenged architects to design homes for modern living using materials and building techniques developed during World War II. Affordable and practical, these Case Study homes experimented with ways to meet the housing needs of returning soldiers.

In addition to Charles and Ray Eames, many famous architects took on the Case Study House challenge. More than two dozen houses were built by top-name designers like Craig Ellwood, Pierre Koenig, Richard Neutra, Eero Saarinen, and Raphael Soriano. Most of the Case Study Houses are in California. One is in Arizona.

Designing Case Study House #8

Charles and Ray Eames wanted to build a house that would meet their own needs as artists, with space for living, working, and entertaining. With architect Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames proposed a glass and steel house made from mail order catalog parts. However, war shortages delayed delivery. By the time the steel arrived, Charles and Ray Eames had changed their vision.

The Eames team wanted to create a spacious home, but they also wanted to preserve the beauty of the pastoral building site. Instead of towering over the landscape, the new plan tucked the house into the hillside.

Charles and Ray Eames moved into Case Study House #8 in December 1949. They lived and worked there for the remainder of their lives. Today, the Eames House is preserved as a museum.

Features of Case Study House #8

  • Slim black columns frame colored panels
  • Living area with ceiling that rises two stories
  • Mezzanine level with spiral stairs
  • Upper level with bedrooms overlooking the living area
  • Courtyard separating the living area from the studio space

Visitor information

Case Study House is located at 203 Chautauqua Boulevard, in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. It is open to the public by reservation only. Visit the Eames Foundation website for more information.

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Craven, Jackie. "Modern Houses, A Visual Tour of the 20th Century." ThoughtCo, Jan. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/visual-tour-of-20th-century-modern-houses-4065260. Craven, Jackie. (2017, January 26). Modern Houses, A Visual Tour of the 20th Century. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/visual-tour-of-20th-century-modern-houses-4065260 Craven, Jackie. "Modern Houses, A Visual Tour of the 20th Century." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/visual-tour-of-20th-century-modern-houses-4065260 (accessed November 19, 2017).