Sep 7, 201309:00 AMPoint of View
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On an undistinguished street in West Hollywood otherwise populated by steroidal garden apartments, there lies, behind a curtain of trees, an acre or so of stubbornly transcendent originality -- the home and gardens of Rudolph Schindler. Born in Vienna in 1887, Schindler studied architecture under early modern pioneers Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos. In 1914, he set off for Chicago to work under Frank Lloyd Wright, who eventually sent him to supervise work the famous Hollyhock House in Los Angeles. Schindler ended up staying in LA for the rest of his life.
He was an unlikely Angelino: a curmudgeon in a city that always aims to please; a devout socialist at Ground Zero of shame-free capitalism; a dreamer of communal life in the land of hyper-individualism. To survive in such an unlikely climate, Schindler set about designing shelter for himself, his eccentric wife Pauline, and the Chaces, another young couple who shared the same bohemian predilections. In the process, he designed what is often regarded as the world's first house in the modernist style.
For a Californian like myself, a first glance at his creation can be rather underwhelming. But that is only because Schindler's radical innovations have all become such commonplaces of California architecture: open floor plan, flat roof, sliding glass doors, seamless movement from the house to a garden that turns its back to the street. Yet in 1924, all these things were considered so bizarre that the local planning authorities denied permission to build. Eventually a temporary permit was granted, reserving the right to halt construction at any phase. They never saw fit to interfere further, and Schindler got to build out his dream.
Both the style and construction of the house were completely novel. The floors, for example, are bare concrete. The walls, too, are concrete, with unadorned slabs separated by tiny strips of opaque glass rather than windows. To balance the industrial chill of cement, redwood framing of roofs and windows provides natural warmth. The effect is strongly reminiscent of traditional Japanese architecture, with its simple, modular plans and rustic elegance.