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haiku for the book “Schindler” by James Steele

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Mar 26, 2012 01:03 AM
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by bubba of the bubbles ( last modified Mar 25, 2012



Wagner, Loos, then Wright
then everything on his own
crystalline structures...

Rudolph Schindler may be my favorite Modern architect, and forseveral reasons. First and foremost, his houses are gorgeous. From the LovellBeach House designed in 1922 to the Daugherty (!!!!) House in 1945, hiscrystalline geometry, long alluring eaves, and unadorned simplicity aresublime. Secondly, he’s something of an architectural underdog, stabbed in theback by “friends” and wrongfully ignored by his colleagues. Thirdly, he wasarguably the most little m modern (as in today-modern) of the Modernarchitects, fusing Wright’s site considerations and Loos’s lack of detail witha hefty helping of client’s needs and budgets, all wrapped in affordable (American)modern construction techniques.

Wolfe House (1928)

In many ways Schindler was Usonian before Usonian was Usonian. Infact, there are many elements of Schindler’s work (the L shaped house plan withplumbing in the elbow of the L; the horizontal woodwork set at unit lengthsthat dictated the construction of the house; used built-ins to expand space;minimized foundation area; focused on affordability) that appear in Wright’sUsonians.

Born in 1887 in Vienna, Austria, Schindler studied engineering and architectureat eh Vienna Academy of Fine Arts under Otto Wagner between 1910 and 1913 andthen attended classes taught by Adolf Loos in 1913, where he met RichardNeutra. While in Vienna, he saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wasmuth Portfolio and, atthe encouragement of Loos, moved to Chicago in 1914 to work for Ottenheimer,Stern, and Reichert (Ottenheimer had worked for Louis Sullivan). In 1915,Schindler took a six-week trip to California to see a couple internationalexhibitions. Along the way, he stopped in Taos, New Mexico, and was smitten,designing an adobe house. In Los Angeles, he was fascinated by the sparse,white work of Irving Gill, a former employee of Louis Sullivan in Chicago. In1916, Schindler began writing Wright for a job. At first, Wright couldn’t hirehim (Wright was struggling financially due to the moral backlash of leaving hiswife and six kids behind in favor of a client’s wife), so Schindler worked asan engineer at a local firm, Ottenheimer, Stern, and Reichert.

It wasn’t until 1917 that Wright hired him to run his Chicago officewhile Wright worked on the Imperial Hotel in Toyko. In 1921, Wright askedSchindler to go to Los Angeles to work on the Barnsdall (Hollyhock) House. Duringhis tenure with Wright, he designed several houses for Wright under Wright’sname. In 1921, enamored with the California climate, not able to return to ahome ravaged by war, and concerned about wilting under Wright’s long shadow, Schindlerstarted his own firm.

Inspired by outdoor living and camaraderie during a camping trip andthe pueblos of New Mexico (and desire to ground his architecture in thevernacular), Schindler designed and built in 1921 and 1922 what is nowconsidered one of the gems of Modern architecture and one of the very firstmodern homes, the Kings Road House (also called the Schindler/Chace House). Thehouse consists of two L-shapes with a kitchen (the “campfire”) shared betweenthe two units as well as an offshoot of guest quarters. The house is notablefor it’s direct connection with the outdoors yet positioning the two units tomaintain privacy (a “trick” that Schindler would employ time and again on anumber of subsequently designed multi-unit apartments). With this house,Schindler is credited with inventing the sliding glass wall.

Kings Road House (1921-1922)

As a side note, Schindler and his wife separated in 1927. In 1936she moved into half of the Kings Road House, communicating infrequently withher husband. When she later wanted to paint the outside of her half of thehouse, he sent her a letter: “Kings Road was built as a protest against theAmerican habit of covering their life and their buildings with coats of finishmaterial to fool the onlooker about their common base. Kings Road was conceivedas a combination of honest materials, concrete--redwood--glass, which we to beleft to show the inner structure and their natural color.” She waited until hedied before painting the house.

During this period, Schindler designed and built the Lovell BeachHouse (considered another icon of Modern architecture) between 1922 and 1926. It’swith this house that he developed his blocky language informed by theneoplasticism of de Stijl.

Lovell Beach House (1922-1926)

Schindler helped his old school buddy, Richard Neutra, get intoFrank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen school. However, Neutra left after a few monthsand moved into the Kings Road House in 1925 where, at the beckoning of Neutra,they joined forces as The Architectural Group for Industry and Commerce. Schindlerwas something of a beatnik, comfortable with his small commissions. However,Neutra was ambitious, forming the firm to pursue large projects andcommissions. The partnership lasted two years before disagreements over credit(Schindler’s name was left off of an award-winning design touring Europe)severed the relationship. Neutra went on to design the Lovell Health House(which, to my eyes, borrows from the Schindler’s Beach House).

Neutra and Schindler (with Dion and Dione Neutra) in happier days...

Schindler was something of an architectural contortionist, forced byCalifornia’s topography (and fantastic scenary) to bend his structures to theland and view. He became known for producing as much house as a small lot and budgetwould support, something his clients appreciated. He optimized his designs tothe dimensions of American building materials to eliminate waste. Unlike hisEuropean contemporaries, who set up strict design rules and restrictions,Schindler was non-dogmatic, willing to compromise aesthetics to accommodateinteriors, views, and clients’ wishes (I reckon that was the engineer in him:aesthetics sacrificed to utility [although I find the majority of his housesquite engaging]). Schindler called his philosophy “Space Architecture”, architecturewith an emphasis on the space inside rather than the walls outside.

Schindler’s architecture was heavily influenced by Wright’s siteconsiderations and Loos’s focus on the interior and use of load bearing walls.His unwillingness to follow the dogma of the day and his association withWright (as well as his penchant for lashing out at his critics) ostracized himfrom his contemporaries. For example, the 1932 show at the Museum of Modern Artin New York, curated by Philip Johnson, purposefully and stunningly excludedSchindler, stating that he “...belongs in the group of Wright followers.” Later,Johnson recognized his mistake: “[Schindler] was badly overlooked during hislifetime and I must confess my part in it. ... Now I believe Schindler was amuch more important figure than I had casually assumed...the most importantarchitect in California in his day.” Johnson claimed that he got most of hisinformation about Schindler from Neutra: “Neutra was really evil, badmouthed everyone,especially Schindler...” (of course, Johnson’s not exactly Mother Theresa, soone has to wonder about his blaming Neutra…). Johnson, who helped coin the term“International Style”, pursued a true international style dogmatically (andill-advisedly) independent of site considerations. Schindler was alsoinexplicitly excluded from the Case Study House program despite havinginfluenced, either directly or indirectly, many of the houses built for theprogram.

Schindler designed over 400 projects, 150 of which were built duringhis career. He tended to build his projects, changing the design (such aswindow placement) if needed during the design. He also seems to have been alikable fellow (as long as you weren’t unfairly disparaging his work). DioneNeutra noted that Schindler “…laughs a lot and radiates cheerful optimism.”Frank Lloyd Wright said that “Rudy Schindler was too smooth a party ever tolearn how to be serious, which is the reason why I liked him.”

Howe House (1925)

Toward the end of his life, Schindler suffered from cancer. In 1953,when Schindler was in the hospital, Neutra, recovering from his second heartattack, was randomly assigned to Schindler’s room. Both were stunned at thehappenstance, having not met or talked for nearly 20 years, but partlyrekindled their friendship by reminiscing about Vienna and the past. Later thatyear, he passed away.

Although Schindler’s work had been published in some (primarilyregional) architectural magazines, his first real major exposure came in EstherMcCoy's “Five California Architects” published in 1960, a book that alsoelevated the reputation of Gill. McCoy worked in Schindler’s office as did GregoryAin, Richard Lind, and Harwell Hamilton Harris (who later joined and deaned theSchool of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin).

And finally there is this quote from the man himself:

"We have come down to earth.  This is expressed in modernarchitecture. Modern architecture lies down flat on the ground like a kittenwho suns itself.  It does not rise to a pyramid."

Gotta love a dude who uses a kitten as an analogy!

Occasional tables.




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