Photos: This futuristic SoCal house is shaped like a cake and made entirely of concrete

Many mid-century aficionados are familiar with the case study houses sponsored by Arts & Architecture (1945-62) magazine that helped major architects of the day – Charles Eames, Raphael Soriano, Richard Neutra, to name a few – build an inexpensive and efficient one Model commissioned houses. Pierre Koenig’s # 22 case study home, stretching across the Hollywood Hills, has become a Los Angeles landmark, and 10 of the 36 proposed case study homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Much less well known is the Horizon Homes program, sponsored by a nationwide association of cement companies in the early 1960s. Their goal: to show how a house can be built inexpensively with concrete and to encourage creative new ways of using the product. This resulted in numerous progressive living concepts in which only exposed concrete and masonry were used for the construction.



Jan 20, 8:33 am: An earlier version of this post stated that a Horizon house designed by architect Fred McDowell belongs to ceramist Harrison McIntosh. The Claremont house described never belonged to McIntosh.


“Both programs were aimed at building innovative and affordable homes,” said Ted Wells, author of Laguna Niguel, whose book Horizon Homes: Living the Real Dream is due to be published by Guardian Stewardship Editions this year. “Everyone has managed to produce some great houses, but both have failed in terms of cost-effectiveness in terms of production.”

The house has a cake pan, a cantilevered roof, and a glass wall that forms the perimeter.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Just when mid-century enthusiasts believed they knew all about the movement, the book – and the conversations it will inspire – offers new information and insight into an overlooked part of the ever-popular movement. “It will illustrate another aspect of the creativity of midcentury modern architects,” says Wells.

According to the author, 11 Horizon Homes have been built in Southern California. One has been lovingly restored by aerospace manager Einar Johnson and his partner, silk scarf importer Pat Gough. (The couple, big fans of Midcentury Modern, also own a 1962 Ray Cap home in Los Angeles.) Johnson searched online for another home near his new job in Irvine in 2004 when he turned the Futuristic in 1964 looking Laguna Niguel the architect George Bissell’s spied residence. He was fascinated by the round apartment with its cake pan and the cantilevered concrete roof as well as the uninterrupted glass wall that forms the perimeter of the house, with each room opening up to the outside landscape and view.

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It took the couple two years to restore the two bedroom residence. Their most arduous task was to remove the man-made brick that covered the original vertical rib cinder block in the kitchen. “All of the grooves were filled with a binder,” says Johnson. “It had to be knocked out bit by bit.” They also refreshed the interior with a coat of matte white paint, including the focal point of the living room – a spray-on “shotcrete” chimney that was handcrafted into a free-sculpted, organic shape. “It’s so slippery – visitors can’t keep their hands off it,” says Johnson, who likes the low maintenance of the concrete house. “We don’t have any cracks in the concrete roof or walls yet – all it takes is a coat of paint every few years.”

The most tedious part of the renovation was removing the faux brick that covered the original vertically ribbed cinder block in the kitchen.

The most tedious part of the renovation was removing the faux brick that covered the original vertically ribbed cinder block in the kitchen. “All of the grooves were filled with a binder,” says Johnson. “It had to be knocked out bit by bit.”

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Another Horizon house, designed in the 1960s by the architect Fred McDowell, was included in a LACMA retrospective in 2011: “California Design 1930-1965: Modern Living”. The hillside house in Claremont, a regional winner of the Portland Cement Assn’s Horizon Homes competition. From 1964 for “the unusual use of glass and cement”, features a horizontal facade of glass panes and cast concrete columns, rafters and beams. Cement elements poured elsewhere were flown onto the narrow spot by helicopter, according to Claremont Heritage, and survived several major fires over the years that destroyed a number of homes nearby.

According to the civil engineer Hanns Baumann, who consulted the house in Bissell, concrete is one of the best building materials. “Concrete is non-flammable and can withstand earthquakes and hurricane winds well,” says Baumann, Principal at Baumann Research and Development Corp. in Orange County. “Building in wood may be cheaper at first, but then rot and termite problems can arise later. Concrete houses have much lower maintenance costs and a longer lifespan. “

Although more than 150 homes have been built across the country under the Horizon Homes program – “many of them are still fresh and futuristic today,” says Wells, “concrete houses haven’t really developed as expected. The houses were too different and most of the lenders didn’t want to finance anything modern. “

Bathroom of Einar Johnson and Pat Gough's Horizon home in Laguna Niguel.

Bathroom of Einar Johnson and Pat Gough’s Horizon home in Laguna Niguel.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Still, homeowners like massage therapist Morgan Mancha and marketer Andrew Trinh, who bought a Horizon home in Riverside in 2012 but have never heard of the program, have become enthusiasts. They praise their home for keeping it cool on hot summer days. The house built by Kurt Steinmann in 1963 is also very quiet. “If there are loud noises outside, we don’t hear them … It’s like in a fortress,” says Mancha. “We have other friends with mid-century wooden houses that have termite problems … With a concrete house, we don’t have to worry.”

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