Pierre Koenig was born in San Francisco in 1925, and moved with his family to San Gabriel, a suburb of Los Angeles. Even at an early age, surrounded by like-minded friends, he was captivated by art and form. When Pierre Koenig turned 17 he enlisted in the army, to take advantage of an education program they offered. In 1943, when America had become immersed in WWII, he was able to complete only one semester of study at the University of Utah. The army cancelled the program and sent him to the front lines in France and Germany…quite a dramatic detour in his plans.
In 1946, Pierre Koenig found himself among the masses of GIs returning home after the war. The impact this influx had on LA at the time was a huge demand for affordable housing, and education for soldiers now ready to get back to work. The pursuit of addressing these inter-linked challenges would shape the crucial beginning of Koenig’s career.
Leading up to, and during the war, LA had become invigorated with revolutionary practices and philosophies in architecture. The USC School of Architecture, had become the leader in exploring social issues related to architecture, and the application of technology produced by wartime industry. The demand for admittance to the school was formidable, causing Koenig to defer his attendance there for 2 years. Not one to give up on passion or a challenging goal, he used this time wisely, to study at Pasadena City College and absorb all he could of the new work being built and created around him.
As a student at USC, studying under Richard Neutra and Gregory Ain, he began to form what would be the centerpiece of his approach to architecture: “It was my notion, when I started, to make anonymous architecture for ordinary people.” While his architecture became anything but anonymous, his continued drive to use modern means to address issues of cost, lifestyle, climate, and lot deficiencies resulting in what many consider to be the best expressions of mid-century design ever produced.
During his years as a student, Raphael Soriano had developed designs using pre-fabricated modular components made of steel. These materials were both cost efficient, and innovative in the design process, offering strength while using streamlined structure, allowing for wide expanses of glass and a seamless interaction of indoor and outdoor environments. In his third year at USC, he submitted the design of a steel home to one of his professors, who rejected it on the basis that steel was not suitable for residential buildings. Undaunted, and characteristic of his drive and optimism, he built the project himself, Koenig House No. 1, proving his professor wrong by completing his home for less money than a wood frame house, and winning an AIA award that year for his design. It was during the building of this house that Pierre Koenig worked with Raphael Soriano, who was preparing his own Case Study House. In addition, in the years following his graduation and early practice, he worked with Edward Fickett, Wright and Wright, and Jones and Emmons on the Eichler X-100 steel houses.
In 1952, Pierre Koenig opened his own practice and was an immediate success, producing a number of homes, without a lot of fanfare or celebrity glitz. In 1957, Koenig received the attention he deserved, and the opportunity to take the place he was destined to fill in the Modernist Movement. The prestigious Case House Study program had been a great success, and was eager to include the exciting new ideas of steel construction. John Entenza, curator of the program, invited Koenig to participate in two homes. The first, Case Study #21 (the Bailey House), was built in 1958, on a level lot in the Hollywood Hills. The house was a showcase for the ideals of the Case Study Program: to provide low-cost, efficient design which was both aesthetically pleasing and able to be massed produced in order to address the growing need for housing in the nation. Pierre Koenig’s design displayed all these qualities, and went much further, by opening the floor plan and structure in a dramatic way to allow the enjoyment of views and the abundant sunlight of the region.
In Case Study #22, The Stahl House, perhaps the single most iconic entry of the program that exists today, would catapult him to the heights of the Modern Movement. In it he displayed the finest examples of meeting his clients’ lifestyle needs, making the best use of the surrounding environment, and connecting the house to nature in a seamless marriage of interior and exterior space. The lot was essentially unbuildable. Set on a rocky overlook in the Hollywood Hills, the view was magnificent, and became the focal point of the house. Koenig excavated expertly and situated the house in and L-shape, using a panoramic enclosure of glass and steel to suspend the public section of the house in the air, resulting in an exalted appreciation of the view, while at the same time, on the other leg of the L, he provided ample privacy in the living quarters, hiding them from the open plan of the rest of the house. Needless to say, he won numerous awards and accolades specifically for these, and other examples of his visionary design, as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards, Distiguished Alumni Awards, and an AIA Gold Medal. Keonig went on to flourish in a prolific career, and in teaching and lecturing, until his death in 2004.