Craig Ellwood

Industrial Designer, United States
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
Entries A–F 755
(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.

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