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CRAIG ELLWOOD
 
 
 
 
  Name   Craig Ellwood
       
  Born   April 22, 1922
       
  Died   May 30, 1992
       
  Nationality   USA
       
  School    
       
  Official website    
     
 
BIOGRAPHY        
   

Craig Ellwood is credited with designing some of the most elegant modern houses built in California in the 1950s and 1960s, but he was not educated as an architect. Born Jon Nelson Burke, in Clarendon, Texas, Burke established in 1946 a small construction company to take advantage of the house-building opportunities offered by the G.I.Bill. To avoid any recriminations should the business fail, the company operated under the fabricated name of “Craig Ellwood Inc.” The company did fail, although Burke retained the name Craig Ellwood for professional reasons, adopting it legally in 1951.

Ellwood then worked as a cost estimator for a firm of modern-house builders in Los Angeles, Lamport, Cofer, Salz-man, while operating from the same address as “Craig Ellwood, Industrial Designer.” While there, Jack Cofer asked him to design his first house, for Milton Lappin, in 1948. Although somewhat awkwardly planned and derivative of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sturges House in Brentwood (1939), it was nevertheless published in the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine in 1950 and brought in further commissions which encouraged him to set up, illegally, as “Craig Ellwood, Architect.”

In October 1949 the first house credited to Ellwood—the Broughton House—appeared in Arts & Architecture followed by the Hale House (Beverly Hills, 1949). That year Ellwood also priced the Eames House (Case Study House 8) for Lamport, Cofer, Salzman. The speculative house he later built for Henry Salzman was published in Arts & Architecture as Case Study House 16 in April 1952, and with this building Ellwood’s reputation was ensured.

The qualitative difference between the Lappin House and the Salzman House is noticeable. Ellwood had clearly learned something from Cofer, and probably something too from Robert Peters, who drew crisp, modernist perspectives for him as early as 1950.

Ellwood’s houses were greatly influenced by the reductivism of Mies van der Rohe as well as Charles Eames and Richard Neutra. Characterized by the use of exposed, lightweight steel or timber framing, and by floating wall planes separated by a shadowline or “flash-gap” detail, they were spare, modernist, and invariably elegant. Recognition came with Case Study House 16 and international success with the Maypole Apartments (1953) which won the Collective Dwelling Category of the 1953–54 São Paolo Biennale. Often formal in arrangement, sometimes symmetrical in plan, and frequently launching into the landscape, Ellwood houses populated the more exclusive Los Angeles suburbs and included the Zack House, Crestwood Hills (1952); the Anderson House, Pacific Palisades, (1954); the Pier-son House (1954) and the Hunt House (1957), Malibu; the Smith House, Crestwood Hills (1958); the Korsen House, Beverly Hills (1959); the Rosen House, Brentwood (1962), and the Kubly House, Pasadena (1965). Overseas, readers of A rts & Archi tecture saw Ellwood’s homes as the epitome of Californian chic. It was in England and Australia however that Ellwood’s influence was most keenly felt, his aesthetic providing one basis for Hi-Tech architecture. What Mies van der Rohe had established as purely aesthetic functionalism with the Farnsworth House (Piano, Illinois, 1950), Ellwood had adapted into an accessible and fashionable vernacular architecture.

The Ellwood style translated less well in larger commercial buildings. Although the South Bay Bank (Los Angeles, 1958) and the Westchester Post Office (1959) are undeniably elegant, the Carson/Roberts Building (Los Angeles, 1960) misrepresents its steel frame as an ill-conceived concrete structure. But at the Scientific Data Systems site in El Segundo (1968), where the administration and manufacturing buildings are pavilions in an open landscape, a successful industrial expression is found. Landscape and architecture came together most dramatically in Ellwood’s last building, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California (1977), which was conceived as a huge truss spanning a canyon, a final realization of a theme often repeated in earlier schemes and buildings.

NEIL JACKSON

 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE        
   

22 April 1922 Born Jon Nelson Burke, in Clarendon, Texas, USA;

1942 raised in southern California; drafted into the US Army Air Force;

1946 established small construction company under the fabricated name of “Craig Ellwood Inc.,”;

1948 Established his own office in Los Angeles ;

1949–53 took graduate classes in Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles;

1951 the name Burke adopted legally in for the construction company;

1951–53 Worked as a cost estimator for a firm of modern-house builders, Lamport, Cofer, Salzman (Los Angeles); shared an office with architect Emiel Becsky ;

1953-1977 Employed architects in his firm: Ernie Jacks (1953), Jerrold Lomax (1953–62), Philo Jacobsen (1961–63), Gerald Horn (1962–65), James Tyler (1966–77), some of whom became Associates but not Partners;

1977 Ellwood closed his architectural practice, moved to Arezzo, Italy;

29 May 1992 died in Arezzo, Italy of an aneurism.

 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING        
    There are no publications that cover the whole extent of Ellwood’s oeuvre. The other sources shown here discuss Ellwood’s work in broader contexts and thus are more general. Banham, Reyner, Los Angeles, The Architecture of Fou r Ecolog ies, London: Allen Lane, and New York: Harper and Row, 1971 Clausen, Meredith, “The Pasadena Art Center and the Curious Case of ‘Craig Ellwood’,” Casabella 664 (1999) Jackson, Lesley (editor), Contemporary: Architecture and Interio rs of the 1950s, London: Phaidon, 1994 Jackson, Neil, The Modern Steel House, London: Spon, and New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996 McCoy, Esther, Modern California Houses: Case Study Houses, 1945–1962, New York: Reinhold, 1962; 2nd edition as Case Study Houses 1945–1962, Los Angeles: Hennessey and Ingalls, 1977 McCoy, Esther, Craig Ellwood: Architectu re, Venice: Alfieri, 1968; Santa Monica, California: Hennessey and Ingalls, 1997 Pérez-Méndez, Alfonso (editor), “Craig Ellwood, 15 Houses,” 2G International Architecture Review 12 (1999) Slert, Charles, 12 Los Angeles Architects, Pomona, California: Cal Poly, 1978 Smith, Elizabeth A.T. (editor), Blueprints for Modern Living: H istory and Legacy of the Case Study Houses, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989
 
 
 
 
 
 
RELATED        
    Eames, Charles and Ray (United States);
 
 

 

 

 

       
 

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