House by Schindler
The plan has a pinwheel configuration and is composed of four studios, a guest quarter, and a garage. Each pair of studios forms an L and opens through sliding canvas doors onto a patio used as an outdoor living room.
The concrete floor and roof canopy extend two and half feet (75 centimeters) into the outdoor patio, creating a transitional zone between interior and exterior spaces that is also used as a secondary circulation path between studios. Walls of shrubbery and bamboo extend the lines of the house into the landscape, protecting it from the street, ensuring privacy to each patio, and articulating the garden into different functional zones.
When describing the architectural scheme of the house, Schindler wrote: "Each room in the house represents a variation on one structural and architectural theme. This theme fulfills the basic requirements for a camper's shelter: a protected back, an open front, a fireplace, and roof... The shape of the rooms, their relation to the patios, and their alternating roof levels create an entirely new spatial interlocking between the interior and the garden."
Pueblo Ribera Apartments
Schindler's interest in merging together indoor and outdoor spaces, exemplified in his own house on Kings Road, is further explored in his first multidwelling complex, Pueblo Ribera Court, in La Jolla. The program called for 12 individual units on a sloping site facing the ocean, which were to serve as minimal shelter for an informal ocean-side lifestyle.
The site plan is organized so that the back wall of one unit also forms the garden enclosure for its neighbor, generating a series of private garden courts. This theme is repeated with variations throughout the scheme, creating a great variety of outdoor spaces.
The site is divided by a public alley which provides access to three garage buildings, while private walkways lead to the entrance of each unit. The overall feeling of the plan is organic and random, but it is the product of a highly hierarchical circulation diagram and careful space planning, making each unit as private as possible.
Each U-shaped unit is made of two lateral masses framing a central living area. They open onto a private garden court, which is to be used as an outdoor living room. The roof terrace, covered with a suspended trellis, is accessed by an outdoor stair and used as a porch for living, sleeping. and viewing the ocean.
The ingenuity of Schindler's space planning is reinforced by the use of innovative construction techniques. For the first time, Schindler used his "slab cast" wall technique. The concrete wall was cast in 16-inch (40-centimeter) horizontal bands, the wood plank formwork being moved up after each cast, leaving a thin, recessed shadow line between them. These horizontal lines match the window mullions and redwood siding to visually and proportionally unite the materials.
Over the years, the project has been severely altered. Some units were destroyed by fire. Others have been remodeled beyond recognition. Only a few remain close to their original condition.
Residence for W. E. Oliver
The ambiguous, almost hybrid, nature of the Oliver House (1933-1934) is unique in Schindler's career. It illustrates, more than any other house, his ability to simultaneously express and resolve the tension between several contradictory design intentions.
Here, "space architecture" had to meet local design requirements, such as the use of a pitched roof. Located in the exclusive upper terraces of the hills surrounding Silverlake, California, the L-shaped house is built on the hilltop, with the garage below at the street level. It is turned 45 degrees to the street to take advantage of splendid views to the ocean, the lake, and the San Gabriel Mountains.
The plan appears as if it has been cut off at its extremities in order to fit within the property limits. The living area is organized in one wing, and the bedrooms are in the other. The children's quarters can be reached by an outdoor porch from the parents' bedroom. Another room was planned above the children's but was never built. Instead, a roof terrace, accessible by an outdoor stair, provides spectacular views of the surroundings.
The most unusual aspect of the house is its roof design: the street facade presents a skillfully articulated "modernist" box, seemingly covered with a flat roof, while in reality, a gable roof is fully revealed on the patio elevation and floats above the house like an umbrella. This kind of ambiguity, which would have been denounced as an anathema by the tenants of modern architecture in Europe, is used by Schindler to create an element of surprise.
While the roof, viewed from the outside, seems to visually complete the flat top of the hill, its complex shape reinforces the sense of spatial continuity throughout the interior space, providing a very sculptural quality to the rooms underneath it.
Beach House for P. Lovell
The Lovell Beach House (1925-1926), a summer residence for a well-known health practitioner, is a pivotal work in Schindler's architectural development.
Its complexity results from the intertwining of several different concerns: Schindler's growing interest in site-specific structural design, his emerging vocabulary of "space forms," and his belief in architecture as a vehicle to change peoples' behavior.
Based on a new and unconventional set of architectural and social ideas, the house was designed to promote the healthy and informal way of life espoused by Dr. Lovell. Located on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, on a lot facing the beach, the house is elevated on piers to provide the living spaces with an unobstructed view of the ocean (and some privacy from the public boardwalk), but also to free the small lot for an outdoor covered living space, equipped with its own fireplace.
"The motif used in elevating the house was suggested by the pile structure indigenous to all beaches," wrote Schindler. The house is organized around a two-story, large, informal room, which opens to the ocean view through a finely articulated glass facade. The second floor, cantilevering into this volume, forms a balcony leading to four individual dressing rooms and sleeping porches beyond.
The roof is used as a terrace, with a portion of it partitioned off for private sun bathing. While the street facade emphasizes the sequence of the five concrete frames moving toward the ocean, the beach facade simply exposes the last frame, thus revealing the building's sectional idea.
For the first time, Schindler makes a clear distinction between structure and enclosure. The concrete frames were cast in place with a single reusable form; the walls, made of metal lath and cement plaster, are nonstructural and simply suspended between them. The repetition of the frames is countered by the formal versatility of the enclosure and its intense articulation.
The Lovell Beach House has been one of Schindler's most controversial projects. While historians have often insisted on the ambiguity and contradictions that characterize the project, it is now considered one of the most important buildings of the early modern movement. Its rejection from the International Style exhibition led, more than any other event, to Schindler's marginalized status within modern architecture.
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Peter Noever is CEO and artistic director of MAK Vienna. He has written about dozens of other works by Rudolf Schindler in the Los Angeles area.
This article is excerpted from Schindler by Mak copyright © 2005, available from Prestel Publishing and at Amazon.com.
Kings Road House, interior, 1995, designed by Austrian modernist, Rudolf Schindler.
Photo: Gerald Zugmann/ MAK
Pueblo Ribera Court, 1923-25.
Photo: Friends of the Schindler House, Schindler Family Collection, Werner Moser
Pueblo Ribera Court, 2004.
Photo: Syd Kato
Lovell Beach House, entrance, 2004.
Photo: Andrea Lenardin Madden
Lovell Beach House, two-story living room, 1926.
Photo: Courtesy Architecture and Design Collection, University of California, Santa Barbara
Oliver House, side view.
Photo: Friends of the Schindler House, Schindler Family Collection
Oliver House, interior view, 1959.
Photo: Oliver Family Collection
Schindler by MAK.
Image: Prestel Publishing; top photo courtesy Architecture and Design Collection, University of California, Santa Barbara
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