At first glance, this plot plan for the Corbin Palms neighborhood looks like just another crowded, shoulder-to-shoulder suburban development in Los Angeles. The houses are tightly packed, and text in the side margin is about standardizing the urban design, from the width of sidewalks to the height of fences. But Corbin Palms belongs to what scholar Becky Nicolaides calls the age of the “sit-com suburb,” when individual design and personal taste still played a role in the design and evolution of the urban landscape. Corbin Palms was also an oasis of architectural taste, with houses that are now highly prized as classic examples of mid-century modern design. The sit-com suburb, immortalized on television as a safe, familiar backdrop for anodyne family dramas and comedy, would give way in the 1960s and 70s to a new kind of development, the “corporate suburb,” developed on a vast scale, with far more standardization, and a move toward a more interior-oriented lifestyle. “Developers discouraged alterations to home exteriors through mind-numbing lists of covenants, conditions, and restrictions… enforced by homeowners associations,” writes Nicolaides of the new approach to mass development. (Courtesy The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles / Courtesy Palmer & Krisel and National Building Museum)

This most famous image of one of the most famous houses in history—the Case Study House No. 22—captures a utopian ideal in urban design. In the flush years after the Second World War, when new roads were connecting a newly mobile and affluent middle class with booming suburban neighborhoods, there was hope that ordinary people might have access to the best architectural thinking and design. The Case Study House program invited prominent modern architects to create modest, efficient customs homes that could serve as the basis for mass housing development. The Case Study House #22 was designed by Pierre Koenig, and seen here in an image by the legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman. It captures Los Angeles at night, a beautiful lattice work of horizontal streets and twinkling lights, beneath a transparent living room where elegant woman seem to hover above the hustle and bustle of the city. Like the other Case Study Houses that survive from this noble endeavor, this house is now anything but a standardized model home. It is an architectural and artistic object, highly prized, and beyond reach to anyone of ordinary means. (Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust./National Building Museum.)

SOURCE: Philip Kennicott.