Buff, Straub & Hensman | Los Angeles Conservancy

Buff, Straub & Hensman

Buff, Straub & Hensman created hundreds of contemporary homes during the postwar housing boom in Southern California. But it was Case Study House #20, designed in 1958 for Saul and Ruth Bass, that cemented their legacy in the celebrated Case Study Program and Los Angeles’ Modernism movement.  

The home’s clean lines, use of prefabricated, cost-effective materials, and integration of indoor/outdoor living perfectly captured the Modernist philosophy. Yet unlike other steel Case Study homes fashioned by design luminaries in the late 1950s, the Bass House was built of wood. The post wood and beam design was admired as the partnership’s mid-twentieth-century trademark.

The Pasadena-based firm was born out of pragmatism. As gifted undergraduate students at USC’s School of Architecture, Conrad Buff (1926-1989) and Donald Hensman (1924-2002) were already designing hundreds of affordable tract homes for a prominent California builder before starting their own practice, Buff & Hensman (1952-1957).  

While still undergraduates, both students were invited by the dean of the architecture school to start teaching in the department. Calvin Straub (1920-1998) was already an established architecture professor at USC when he asked the young and talented twosome to join forces.  

Rather than compete for the same residential commissions, the three Trojans formed the award-winning firm of Buff, Straub & Hensman (1958-1963).  The practice was prolific, creating classic Modern dwellings throughout Los Angeles, including the notable Poppy Peak Historic District in Pasadena.  

As U.S. Navy veterans and longtime residents of Los Angeles, all three partners had a profound understanding of the economic and environmental needs of postwar Southern California.  As USC architecture professor Victor Regnier told the Los Angeles Times in 2002, “Almost every California architect educated since the early 1950s has been influenced by the work of Hensman, Buff and Straub in one way or another.”

After Calvin Straub relocated to accept a professorship at Arizona State University in 1963, Buff & Hensman & Associates was formed (1964-1988). The dynamic duo continued to garner significant commissions, including the Governor’s Mansion for Ronald Reagan.

In 1988, associate Dennis Smith was made partner and the firm was renamed Buff, Smith & Hensman. Led by Smith, the firm still practices today, continuing the legacy started by Buff, Straub & Hensman.