The 1922 Schindler House and the Architect Who Designed It

01
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The Schindler Chace House

An outdoor fireplace in a concrete wall across from a wall of windows
Concrete and glass at the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

Architect Rudolph Schindler (aka Rudolf Schindler or R.M. Schindler) is often overshadowed by his older mentor Frank Lloyd Wright and his younger colleague Richard Neutra. Would mid-century modern architecture in America have looked the same had Schindler never moved to the Los Angeles hills?

Like other interesting tales about the making of America, the story of the Schindler House is all about the person and the accomplishment—in this case, the architect and the architecture.

About R.M. Schindler:

Born: September 10, 1887 in Vienna, Austria
Education and Experience: 1906–1911 Imperial Technical Institute, Vienna; 1910–13 Academy of Fine Arts,  Vienna, degree in architecture and engineering; 1911-1914 Hans Mayr and Theodor Mayer in Vienna, Austria;
Emigrated to the US: March 1914
Professional Life in the US:  1914-1918 Ottenheimer Stern and Reichert in Chicago, Illinois; 1918-1921 Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, Chicago, and Los Angeles; 1921 established his own firm in Los Angeles, at times with engineer, Clyde B. Chace, and other times with architect Richard Neutra
Influences: Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos in Austria; Frank Lloyd Wright in the US
Selected Projects: Schindler Chace House (1922); Beach House for P. Lovell (1926); Gisela Bennati cabin (1937), the first A-frame; and many private residences around the Los Angeles area for wealthy clients
Died: August 22, 1953 in Los Angeles, at the age of 65

In 1919, Schindler married Sophie Pauline Gibling in Illinois and the couple almost immediately packed up and moved to Southern California. Schindler's employer, Frank Lloyd Wright, had two huge commissions to juggle—the Imperial Hotel in Japan and the Olive Hill Project in California. The house on Olive Hill, planned for wealthy oil heiress Louise Aline Barnsdall, became known as Hollyhock House. While Wright spent time in Japan, Schindler supervised the construction of the Barnsdall house beginning in 1920. After Barnsdall fired Wright in 1921, she hired Schindler to finish her Hollyhock House.

About the Schindler House:

Schindler designed this two-family house in 1921, while still working on the Hollyhock House. It is an unusual two-family home—four rooms (spaces, really) were envisioned for the four occupants, Clyde and Marian Chace and Rudolph and Pauline Schindler, with a communal kitchen shared by both couples. The house is Schindler's grand experiment with designed space, industrial materials, and onsite construction methods. The architectural "style" shows influences from Wright's Prairie homes, Stickley's Craftsman, Europe's de Stijl Movement and Cubism, and the unadorned modernist trends Schindler learned in Vienna from Wagner and Loos. Elements of the International Style are present, too—flat roof, asymmetrical, horizontal ribbon windows, lack of ornamentation, walls of concrete and walls of glass. Schindler took elements of many architectural designs to create something new, something modern, an architectural style that became collectively known as Southern California Modernism.

The Schindler House was built in 1922 in West Hollywood, about 6 miles from Olive Hill. The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) documented the property in 1969—some of their recreated plans are included in this photo gallery.

Sources: Biography, MAK Center for Art and Architecture; Schindler, North Carolina Modernist Houses; Rudolph Michael Schindler (Architect), Pacific Coast Architecture Database (PCAD) [accessed July 17, 2016]

02
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Illustration of Schindler Chace House

Aerial Isometric From Southwest Drawn by Jeffrey B. Lentz in 1969, the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California
Aerial Isometric from Southwest Drawn by Jeffrey B. Lentz in 1969, part of the Historic American Buildings Survey Project. Recreated drawing by Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC (cropped)

The R.M. Schindler house takes Frank Lloyd Wright's "indoor/outdoor" design scheme to a new level. Wright's Hollyhock House has a series of grand terraces overlooking the Hollywood hills. Schindler's plan was to actually use outdoor space as habitable living areas. Note, in this sketch and the initial photo in this series, the large exterior fireplaces facing outward, toward green areas, as if the outdoor area was a campsite. Indeed, Schindler and his wife had visited Yosemite just weeks before he began drawing plans for their house, and the idea of living in the outdoors—camping—was fresh in his mind.

About the Schindler Chace House:

Architect/Builder: Designed by Rudolf M. Schindler; Built by Clyde B. Chace
Completed: 1922
Location: 833-835 North Kings Road in West Hollywood, California
Height: one story
Construction Materials: concrete slabs "tilted" in place; Redwood; glass and canvas
Style: California Modern, or what Schindler called "A Real California Scheme"
Design Idea: Two L-shaped areas roughly separated into 4 spaces (studios) for two couples, surrounded by grass patios and sunken gardens. Self-contained guest quarters are separated from occupants' areas. Separate entrances. Sleeping and living space on roof of the couple's studio space.

Source: Schindler House, MAK Center for Art and Architecture [accessed Ki;u 18, 2016]

03
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Sleeping on the Roof

Sunken garden area seen from a rooftop terrace at the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California
Scene from the rooftop of the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

The Schindler House was an experiment in modernity—avant-garde design, construction techniques, and communal living turned residential architecture on its head as the 20th century got underway.

One striking example is the semi-sheltered sleeping areas on the roof of each "apartment."  Over the years, these sleeping porches became more enclosed, but Schindler's original vision was for "sleeping baskets" under the stars—even more radical than Gustav Stickley's Craftsman Summer Log Camp for Outdoor Sleeping. Stickley's design for a camp with an open sleeping room on the upper level was published in the July 1916 issue of The Craftsman magazine. Although there's no evidence that Schindler ever saw this magazine, the Viennese architect was incorporating Arts & Crafts (Craftsman in the US) ideas into his own home design in Southern California.

Source: R.M. Schindler House, National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, Entry Number 71.7.060041, prepared by Esther McCoy, July 15, 1970

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Lift-Slab Concrete Walls

Concrete wall with vertical slit windows
Windows in a concrete wall at the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

The Schindler House may be modular, but it's not prefabricated. Four foot tapered panels of concrete were cast onsite, on forms laid out on the concrete floor slab. After being cured, the wall panels were "tilted" into place on the foundation and a wooden framework, attached together with narrow window strips.

The window strips give some flexibility to the construction, and provide natural sunlight into an otherwise concrete bunker. Judicial use of these concrete and glass panels, especially along the roadside facade, provided impenetrable privacy for a home occupied by two families.

This window-slit type of transparency to the outside world is reminiscent of a castle meurtrière or loophole—apropos to a house of solid concrete. In 1989, Tadao Ando used a similar slit opening design to dramatic effect in his design for the Church of Light in Japan. The slits form a wall-sized Christian cross.

 

05
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First Floor Plan

First Floor Plan of the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California, drawn by Stanley A. Westfall, 1969
First Floor Plan of the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California, Drawn by Stanley A. Westfall, 1969. Recreated drawing by Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC (cropped)

Schindler's original floor plan had open spaces demarked only by the occupant's initials. In 1969, the  Historic American Buildings Survey drew plans more representative of the house in its current state at the time—original canvas doors to exteriors had been replaced with glass; the sleeping porches had been enclosed; interior spaces were being used more traditionally as bedrooms and living rooms.

The house with an open floor plan is an idea Frank Lloyd Wright took with him to Europe and to his first house in Southern California, the Hollyhock House. In Europe, the 1924 De Stijl style Rietveld Schröder House was designed by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld to be flexible, its second floor divided by moving panels. Schindler, too, used this idea, with shōji-like separators that complemented the wall of windows.

Source: R.M. Schindler House, National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, Entry Number 71.7.060041, prepared by Esther McCoy, July 15, 1970

06
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International Influences

Wall of windows and clerestory windows light interior space at the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California
A wall of windows and clerestory windows light interior space at the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

There's a Japanese look to interior spaces at the Schindler House, reminding us that Frank Lloyd Wright had been working on the Imperial Hotel in Japan while Schindler took care of Hollyhock House. Dividing walls have a Japanese shōji look inside the Schindler House.

The Schindler House is a study in glass and concrete structurally. Inside, clerestory windows evidenced the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, and cube-like chairs pronounced a kindred spirit with the avant garde art movement, Cubism. "Cubism began as an idea and then it became a style," writes Art History Expert Beth Gersh-Nesic. The same could be said of the Schindler House—it began as an idea, and it became a style of architecture.

Learn More:

  • How to Repair a Wooden Room Divider
07
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The Communal Kitchen

The kitchen of the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California
The kitchen of the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

Clerestory windows were an important feature of Schindler's design. Without sacrificing wall space, these windows are practical and functional, especially in a kitchen.

A social aspect of Schindler's home design that is also practical and functional is the communal kitchen. When considering the overall use of a cooking area, sharing this space in an area between the two apartments makes sense—more so than sharing bathrooms, which is not in Schindler's plans.

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Space Architecture

The garden seen from an interior room at the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California
The garden seen from a wall of windows at the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

The window glass is set in what has been described as "shoji-like frames of redwood." As the walls of concrete protect and defend, Schindler's walls of glass open one's world to the environment.

"The comfort of a dwelling lies in its complete control of: space, climate, light, mood, within its confines," Schindler wrote in his 1912 Manifesto in Vienna. The modern dwelling "will be a quiet, flexible background for a harmonious life."

Sources: R.M. Schindler House, National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, Entry Number 71.7.060041, prepared by Esther McCoy, July 15, 1970; Rudolf M. Schindler, Friends of the Schindler House (FOSH) [accessed July 18, 2016]

09
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Open to the Garden

A wall of windows and opened sliding doorway to exterior green space
Sliding doors extend to outside green areas surrounding the 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

Every studio space at the Schindler House has direct access to exterior gardens and patios, extending the living areas of its occupants. This concept directly influenced the design of the ever-popular Ranch Style home in America.

"The California house," writes architecture historian Kathryn Smith, "—a one-story dwelling with an open floor plan and a flat roof, which opened to the garden through sliding doors while turning its back to the street—became the established norm of postwar housing. The Schindler House is now recognized nationally and internationally as a totally new beginning, a genuinely fresh start in architecture."

Source: The Schindler House by Kathryn Smith, The MAK, Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art [accessed July 18, 2016]

10
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The Occupants

The 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California
The 1922 Schindler House in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

Clyde and Marian Chace lived in their half of the Schindler Chace house from 1922 until moving to Florida in 1924. Marian's brother, Harley DaCamera (William H. DaCamara, Jr.), who was married to Clyde's sister, L'may, was a classmate of Clyde's at the University of Cincinnati (Class of 1915). Together they formed the DaCamera-Chace Construction Company in the growing community of West Palm Beach, Florida.

Schindler's younger school friend from Vienna, the architect Richard Neutra, emigrated to the US, and moved to Southern California after he, too, worked for Frank Lloyd Wright. Neutra and his family lived at the Schindler House from about 1925 to 1930.

The Schindlers eventually divorced, but, true to their unconventional lifestyle, Pauline moved into the Chace side and lived there until her death in 1977. Rudolph Schindler lived at Kings Road from 1922 until his death in 1953.

Learn More:

  • History of L.A. Modernism by Alan Hess, The Los Angeles Conservancy
  • Schindler House by Kathryn Smith, 2001
    Buy on Amazon
  • Schindler, Kings Road, and Southern California Modernism by by Robert Sweeney and Judith Sheine, University of California Press, 2012
    Buy on Amazon

Source: Historic West Palm Beach, Florida Historic Homes [accessed July 18, 2016]

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Craven, Jackie. "The 1922 Schindler House and the Architect Who Designed It." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2016, thoughtco.com/rm-schindler-house-4064503. Craven, Jackie. (2016, September 9). The 1922 Schindler House and the Architect Who Designed It. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/rm-schindler-house-4064503 Craven, Jackie. "The 1922 Schindler House and the Architect Who Designed It." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/rm-schindler-house-4064503 (accessed November 23, 2017).