A Monumental Vision – Glass visits the Schindler House in West Hollywood

INCONSPICUOUSLY nestled on Kings Road in West Hollywood is the Schindler House, built by Rudolf Schindler between 1921-22, when the site was rural farmland. Recognised as one of the precursors of contemporary architecture, the building was the brainchild of Schindler and his wife Pauline, a poet and activist who shared a vision of creating a communal space for living and working.

Schindler House Photo-Joshua_White-1899_apGlass visits the Schindler House in Los Angeles. © MAK Center. Photo: Joshua White

Revolutionary for its time, the building was made up of a single open-plan space separated into quarters by sliding partitions which afforded members of the household (originally the Schindlers and their friends Clyde and Marian Chase) privacy when required. Influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright for whom Schindler worked in his early years in LA between 1918-1922, Japanese architecture and Adobe architecture, the house is built low to the ground with modest materials in their most elemental state: the floor and wall structures were poured concrete tempered with insulation board and glass; the partition walls were constructed of redwood and raw canvas.

Embracing utilitarian methods, Schindler began his experiment with walls for the building by pouring concrete onto roofing felt to prevent the slabs from sticking to the floor during the casting process. As the felt wrinkled with moisture, it left impressions on the concrete which may be observed in Pauline Schindler’s studio today. Schindler later switched to pouring onto paraffin, which allowed for walls with smoother impressions in the remainder of the house.

Schindler House Zugmann© MAK Center. Photo: Gerald Zugmann

The house was in-part inspired by a trip that the Schindlers took to Yosemite, where the couple were deeply affected by their experience of living amongst nature. Perhaps this is what prompted Schindler to form a nucleus to the site: a central patio replete with a copper hearth that was satellited by the house and generous gardens, thus integrating the indoors with outdoors.

It was in this central patio that the Schindlers held regular meetings and social events. Guests included avant-garde composer John Cage, photographer Edward Weston and architect Richard Neutra, the later who replaced the Chaces as resident in the house between 1925-1930. Though Rudolf Schindler died in 1953, the site remained a focal point for academic, political and artistic discourse until Pauline Schindler’s death in 1977.

Schindler House Photo-Joshua_White-1854

© MAK Center. Photo: Joshua White

“In my own house I introduced features which seemed to be necessary for life in California: an open plan, flat on the ground; living patios; glass walls; translucent windows; shed roofs with wide shading overhangs. These features have now been accepted generally and form the basis of the contemporary California house,” said Rudolf Schindler in 1952.

Coming from the much harsher climate of Vienna, Schindler revelled in the possibility of outdoor living in California. Rather eccentrically, he built two bedrooms on the roof of the house as sleeping baskets sheltered only by curtains of red trumpet vine. As the house was intended to mould a lifestyle closely connected with nature, sleeping exposed to the elements in a semi-enclosed room was core to the experience of inhabiting the house.

A lush garden consisting of Texas privet hedge, pepper and dwarf orange trees, ivy beds and a giant bamboo perimeter occupied the site.

Schindler House Photo-Joshua_White-1913_ap

© MAK Center. Photo: Joshua White

The Schindlers separated in 1927, when Pauline left the house and lived along the Californian coastline until returning to Kings Road in 1938. After she and Rudolf finalised their divorce, the house was divided into two, with Pauline provocatively reworking her half of the building, covering every inch of the walls with fluorescent pink and tile until her death in 1977. Though the house has since been restored to its original design, a trace of pink paint may be observed in Pauline’s studio.

by Rowena Chiu

With thanks to MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Adam Pena and Jessica Trent