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Conrad Buff (1926-1989) & Donald Hensman (1924-2002)

Buff_Hensman Born: Los Angeles, California (Buff); Omaha, Nebraska (Hensman)
Education: University of Southern California, 1952 (both)
Best known for: Post-and-beam construction, homes that offered simultaneous openness and privacy, and Case Study House #20. The Case Study Houses, through an Arts & Architecture magazine program, were intended to foster the creation of modern, easily constructed and affordable housing prototypes. Long after the program ended, Buff & Hensman continued to build homes along the same guiding principles.

Conrad Buff III and Donald Hensman are the epitome of two being greater than the sum of their parts. Buff’s fine artistry and craftsman aesthetic harmonized with Hensman’s simplicity and precision in an enduring collaboration. The pair later welcomed their former USC professor, Calvin Straub, into the partnership for five years to avoid competing with him.

As savvy young undergrads, the two designed thousands of tract homes for a prominent developer. Upon opening their firm, they gained ground in the architectural community for their creative use of challenging sites and a mastery of designing homes that were intensely private yet relaxed and open.

Julius Shulman photographed many early projects in their favored post-and-beam style. The photographer’s connections and endless flow of assignments helped promote Buff & Hensman and modernism at large. Just six years out of USC, their Case Study Home #20 received untold global attention through the pages of Art & Architecture magazine and the resulting publicity. Overnight, Buff & Hensman went from a well-respected firm to the stars of modern architecture.

In the productive decades that followed, their work evolved, particularly when California’s 1970s building code required it. Casual post-war homes that opened from wood frames and glass panels into the sunny outdoors led to more complex studies in space, mass, light, and shadow. The pair stayed true to their roots: detailed workmanship, quality materials, and clever site orientation so lots lived large, despite their size.

Buff & Hensman collected more than 40 A.I.A. awards while designing artistically proportioned homes across Southern California, including celebrity estates and a concentration of lookers in Pasadena’s Poppy Peak Historic District.

The firm still practices after four incarnations across more than six decades: Buff & Hensman (1952-57); Buff, Straub & Hensman (1958-63); Buff & Hensman & Associates (1964-88), and Buff, Smith & Hensman (1988-present).

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