Craig Ellwood
By Neil Jackson

February 11, 2002 /
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Photo-1.jpgPhoto: Bob Willoughby, courtesy CSPU Pomona
Craig Ellwood at the Hale House, 1954.

In architecture, structure is the only clear principle./Craig Ellwood

Craig Ellwood (1922-92) - the Californian Modernist best known for his Los Angeles Case Study Houses and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena - was a product of Hollywood. An architectural superstar, he was fashioned and honed by ambition, charm and an eye for great design.

The powerful consistency of style and detail which runs through Ellwood's work is immediately attractive both for its clarity and simplicity, and one to which the professional and general reader alike can respond. Ellwood demonstrated that architecture could be both simple and accessible and, in budgetary terms, attainable.

This wonderful book examines the architecture and the colourful life of this extraordinary man who reinvented himself to become the Cary Grant of his profession.

The spirit of architecture is its truthfulness to itself: its clarity and logic with respect to its materials and structure ... Art in architecture is not arbitrary stylism or ethereal symbolism, but rather the extent to which a building can transcend from the measurable into the immeasurable. The extent to which a building can evoke profound emotion. The extent to which a building can spiritually uplift and inspire man while simultaneously reflecting the logic of the technique which alone can convey its validity to exist./Craig Ellwood, 'The essence of architecture...', MS,
Los Angeles, Oct. 1975.
Graham Foundation collection

Photo-2.jpgPhoto: arcspace
Art Center College of Design

Case Study House 16


"Of my three Case Study Houses, I think perhaps Case Study House 16 is the best."

Photo-4.jpgPhoto: Marvin Rand

Standardization was the idea behind the Johnson House (1952 - 53). Like the earlier buildings, the Johnson House used a combined steel and timber structural system. It was a simple and effective assembly, and the hillside site suited frame construction.

Photo-5.jpgPhoto: Julius Shulman

It was at the Hale House (1949-51) that the uninterrupted, recessed glass facade was achieved for the first time. Whereas the earlier buildings, in their adoption of the recessed facade, had given the roof plane depth, treating it as a single slab enveloping the structure, the Hale House reduced the roof to a thin wafer, with the 10 inch timber roof beams being expressed below.

Photo-6.jpgPhoto: Julius Shulman

At the Rosen House (1961-63) Ellwood had tried to separate the inner volumes from the building's perimeter. Masonry panels were used to infill the crisp, steel framing, and an open box section detail was repeated along the steel entablature on either side of the main house.

"I became really aware of Mies's work around '55 or '56. I had been aware of Mies, but never having studied architecture I wasn't really aware of many architects other than those in California working in Los Angeles? When I discovered his work, it was an astonishing revelation to me. His elegant use and expression of structure, his floor plans, his details, his plays of planes and spaces were perfection. He was the architect I wanted to be, and his work would highly influence mine."
(From 'Life is a Bottomless Barrel')

Photo-7.jpgPhoto courtesy CSPU Pomona
Mies van der Rohe with Craig Ellwood, Los Angeles, 1966.

Ellwood's life and career are discussed chronologically, beginning with this early work in the post-war California building industry and ending with his retirement to Italy for a new start as a painter. From his initial interview with Ellwood in 1988, author Neil Jackson's many interviews with dozens of Ellwood's friends, colleagues and family members make this book stand out among architectural monographs.

photo-8.gifDrawing copyright "Craig Ellwood".
Case Study House 16, 1951-53, Perspective drawing

The book is illustrated with images and drawings from the Ellwood archives at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, as well as with photographs from Marvin Rand and Julius Shulman, and specially commissioned pictures by John Linden. A complete list of works - including Ellwood's 'misattributed buildings', furniture, paintings and sculpture - helps to make this the definitive account of his career.

It was the need to succeed, and to be seen to succeed, which, more than anything, drove Craig Ellwood. If he had not succeeded in architecture, he would no doubt have succeed in something else: indeed, he moved from architecture to painting with barely a pause./Neil Jackson

Neil Jackson is an architect and an architectural historian. He currently holds the Hoffman Wood Chair of Architectural Engineering at the University of Leeds. From 1985-1990 he lived in Los Angeles where he was an Associate Professor at CSPU Pomona where he taught with Craig Ellwood.

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Publisher: Laurence King Publishing

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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