In 1920 Austrian-born Rudolph M. Schindler was summoned from Chicago to Los Angeles by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright needed Schindler’s help to complete various projects in the California, including the Hollyhock House in Los Feliz. After completing Hollyhock Schindler commenced work on several private commissions of his own, including the house on Kings Road which would become his home until his death in 1953.
The Schindler House has functioned as the MAK Center for Art and Architecture since 1994. As the MAK Center is open to the public we were excited to take a look around the home of one of our favourite architects and explore one of LA’s most famous modernist homes.
Immediately one can tell that this is no ordinary home, in fact it is rather exceptional in several ways. Firstly, the layout of two adjoining ‘L’s was conceived to accommodate two artist couples and was thus an early experiment in communal living. Each of the four artists were to be allocated their own studio, and each couple shared an outdoor ‘sleeping basket’ on the roof. Kitchen and bathroom facilities were shared but the house was also given a fifth guest studio with its own separate kitchen and bathroom. Secondly, Schindler was keen to experiment with the ‘tilt-up’ concrete wall method and so the house’s construction is also fairly unique. First a concrete slab is laid as both foundation and final floor surface (very cold underfoot in winter but no doubt a blessing during the hot summers in Los Angeles). Separate concrete wall sections are then laid horizontally against the slab and tilted to near vertical when set (by all accounts this was a more difficult process than anticipated). Between each wall section there is left a 3” gap which was variously filled with either more concrete, clear glass or opaque glass. This lends the house a rather impenetrable fortress-like appearance from the street, rather like a traditional Spanish hacienda, but stepping inside, where Schindler takes inspiration from traditional Japanese homes, the house feels much lighter as the walls facing the rear garden are instead comprised of delicately glazed panels. Unusually for a building of this period the window frames are of wood construction and not steel, something which was no doubt only made possible by the benign California climate.
Schindler’s personal relationships were no less unorthodox and after his friend (project builder) Clyde Chace departed in 1924 the Chaces’ ‘L’ was occupied by a series of notables, including Schindler’s friend and rival Richard Neutra who lived there from 1925 to 1930. During a long separation Schindler’s wife Pauline left the house, but she returned again in the late 30’s and occupied the former Chace wing. From then on husband and wife lived adjacent but separate lives (did they wave across the garden?) until each of them passed away, Rudolph in 1953 and Pauline in 1977.
Pauline bequeathed the house to FOSH (Friends of the Schindler House) who began work on restoring the house in the mid-1980’s. Interestingly, at the time some parties advocated the removal of the house to the desert; this was because in the years since its construction 4 storey apartment buildings had crowded around it and thus its original low-rise context has been lost. Happily the house remained where it was, however further criticism was made when some small changes Schindler had made over the years were removed. Since 1994 the house has been operated under an agreement between FOSH and the MAK (the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts) whereby FOSH retain ownership while programming is the responsibility of the MAK. The MAK also own and operate two other Schindler houses in Los Angeles: the Mackay Apartments and the Fitzpatrick-Leland House.
As an arts centre it is fair to say the building sees very heavy usage (there were dance events taking place when we visited) and although it is great to see a modernist building full of life and activity, some, ourselves included, would argue it is being forced to work a little too hard for its supper! The general appearance is one of a building in need of some expensive maintenance with huge cracks visible in the slab, rotting or damaged window frames and evidence of damp penetration throughout. Hopefully in the future a more forgiving balance between historic preservation, artistic expression and income generation can be achieved.
© Modernist Tourists 2016