The Case Study Houses aimed to show that “good design” could be affordable, but also that it could be relevant to more than the single-family luxury house. Among the 36 projects included in the program, there were two multi-unit developments. Only one was ever built: the Triad, in Phoenix, completed in 1964.
The Triad is a one-story complex comprised of three apartment units designed by architect Alfred Newman Beadle. We visited it for the first time in 2014, accompanied by architect Michael P. Johnson, a friend of Beadle and a professor at Taliesin West. Built on a modular 10-foot-by-14-foot grid (the standard size of wood beams on the market at that time), it was designed for fast and cheap construction. With the Triad, Beadle wanted to show that it was possible to build quality collective housing at an affordable price. But demonstrating affordability was hard at such a small scale, and he quickly tested the strategy on larger developments (such as his Boardwalk and Three Fountains projects).
Of course, Beadle was not the only architect in the postwar era to pursue affordable housing; many American architects explored models for denser and more cost-efficient individual dwellings. But his projects offer something more: urban value.
The grid, which is at the origin of all his work, cannot be reduced to an abstract model or a mere constructive system. It is first and foremost a physical experience – a common living environment that is the opposite of the simple accumulation of units according to standardized building principles. In the Triad, units are organized so that each living room and kitchen looks out through a large glass wall onto a shared space, while the back room opens up to a small private courtyard. Each dwelling is conceived in relation to the others. In playing with the landscaping and pergolas of the shared space, different levels of privacy emerge. The architecture and landscape form a whole that intensifies the scale of the development and creates proximity without promiscuity. The grid thus acts as an urban model, creating relationships between the architectural typology of the house and the space produced by the urban form of collecting them.
Beadle’s collective projects are a brilliant demonstration of the capacity to make the city with housing. Michael P. Johnson speaks about them as “heroic projects.” If, at the time of their construction, Beadle’s commitment to affordable housing was indeed heroic, this heroism takes on new meaning today. Especially with regard to the many current challenges for design, his work encourages us to take a step toward shared space without sacrificing the quality of life that is itself the symbol of a certain resilience.
Anthony Jammes and Susanne Eliasson
text written for Avery Shorts (a project of Columbia Books on Architecture and the City) S01 E01