Schindler Frame – Introduction, part 1 of 3

Trying to understand Schindler’s later houses

Introduction

Lately I have been looking at Schindler’s later buildings. They (fig 1) are different from his earlier buildings (fig 2) that I have written about.1 The earlier houses, described by Schindler as Plaster Skin houses, are smooth masses with little detail and dynamic exteriors. His later homes, described by Schindler as Schindler Frame buildings, are thinner, with roof overhangs, exposed structure and intricate interiors. His later buildings can be more difficult to like and understand-particularly from the outside.  They lack the dynamic, modern Plaster Skin exteriors. To some people they look strange, cobbled together, as if they were not even built by an architect at all.
 

Architecture Term   This series is about the wooden structure of houses. This structural framework, or frame, is called wood framing or wood frame. To talk about how a wooden structure is organized and built, you talk about how it is framed.

Fortunately, Schindler wrote many articles about his work and ideas. In 1947, he wrote one of his most famous articles, “The Schindler Frame” (fig 3, first 2 pages).  In it he explained his Schindler Frame system of construction, the system he invented and used in designing and building his later work. I was generally familiar with the article, but decided that I should try to really understand the Schindler Frame, and see how it might help me with his later work.  After studying the Schindler Frame article and drawings, building a 3D model of the Schindler Frame and visiting some Schindler Frame houses, I now think that the Schindler Frame is a key to understanding his later work.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to the Architecture & Design Collection, University Art Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara, and Jocelyn Gibbs, Curator for giving me permission to use the Schindler Frame drawings. This series would not be possible without their help.

Many thanks to formwerks for his photos of the Roth House. His photos are copyright 2006, all rights reserved.

Many thanks to Architecture Record, for allowing me to include the first two pages of the original Schindler Frame article. 

Many thanks to Sarah Sherman, Reference Librarian and the Getty Research Institute for letting me use the Julius Shulman photo in the Schindler Frame article.

The Schindler Frame 

This article was published in the May, 1947 issue of Architecture Record 2. The Schindler Frame is not an entirely new construction system. It is a special modification of the standard US wood construction system, called western platform framing (fig a).  Included in the article are two drawings, labeled in the original drawings, but not in the article, as ‘A’ and ‘B’.  ‘A’  (fig 4) 3, upper drawing in the article, is a cross section through a prototypical Schindler Frame building. It shows how the different parts of his system come together. ‘B’ (lower drawings in the article) shows details, such as how windows and doors are built and installed. I will focus on the prototypical building in ‘A’ for these articles. The details in ‘B’ are very important in understanding some parts of the system, but are too detailed to discuss here. I encourage the detail obsessed (architects) to also look at ‘B’.

The heart of the article is the ‘A’ drawing that illustrates the Schindler Frame. When I tried to understand it, I realized it is very confusing. Schindler used many architectural drawing conventions, a graphic shorthand 4, to show all kinds of things in one drawing. Like a cubist painting, the

building is shown from many viewpoints simultaneously – the front, the rear, the top, with and without plaster (fig 10).  I decided that my first step would be to make a 3D model to translate the drawing. This would help me (and my readers) understand the construction system the drawings are trying to describe.

The Model

Although the drawing is meant to show typical conditions, I made the model as if the drawing showed an actual building. The drawing is a cross section, showing the building as if it has been cut in half. My model is a cross section that also shows half of the building. I have used my best interpretation where the drawing and text aren’t completely clear.5

This Series

In this first article, I illustrate the Schindler Frame drawing.  The ‘A’ drawing is so confusing that I think it is important to get familiar with the look of the system as a first step. In my second article I will explain how the Schindler frame differs from convention wood construction, and in the third article I will how Schindler used the Schindler Frame to design some of his later houses.

Next article: So, what’s the difference?

Illustrations

1 Roth House, 1945, Schindler Frame
2 McAlmon House, 1935, Plaster Skin
3 First two pages of the four page 1947 Schindler Frame article
Architectural Record article
reprinted with permission from Architectural Record (c) 1947, The McGraw-Hill Companies. www.architecturalrecord.com.Schulman photo copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
4 Original Schindler Frame drawing ‘A’
R. M. Schindler Papers (Architecture and Design Collection, University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara. Collection number 1967.100). Copyright UC Regents.
a   Western platform framing diagram5   Schindler Frame model
         Without exterior stucco or interior plaster
         Labeled same as Schindler Frame drawing ‘A’
6 Same view of model as figure 5, with plaster and stucco
7 Exterior, opposite side of model
         Without exterior stucco or interior plaster
8 Exterior, opposite side with plaster and stucco
9 Interior view
10 Schindler Frame ‘A’ drawing guide
       Circled areas in drawing are matched with same areas in model
       Most conditions in drawing are shown in overall model view in lower right corner
11 Detail of high roof, clerestory framing and low roof plates
12 Detail of high roof, low roof, clerestory window and lower roof plates
13 Animated walk-around of framing model
14 Animated walk-around with stucco and plaster

Bibliography

1 Judith Scheine, “Construction and the Schindler Frame,” RM Schindler: Composition and Construction,eds.Lionel March and Judith Scheine(London:  Ernst & Sohn, 1993) pp 229-251
2 Judith Scheine, R.M. Schindler (London: Phaidon Press, 2001) pp 198-237

Notes

1 Looking at Schindler’s work as a linear progression through time, he started here and ended up there, is always difficult. His work is not clearly divided into phases. Some of his early projects, like the Kings Road and Kaun Houses, anticipate his later buildings. Some of his later projects, like the Erlik House, combine elements of his later and earlier work.
2 “Schindler Frame”, Architectural Record (New York), Vol  101, May 1927, pp 143-146
3R. M. Schindler, Schindler frame: wall construction, 1945R.M. Schindler Papers (Architecture and Design Collection, University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara. Collection number 1967.100) copyright UC Regents
4 One graphic convention that is used obsessively in ‘A’ is the “break line”, shown as one or two curving or jagged lines. The idea is that the building is broken off at this point, usually because the condition repeats and there is no reason to draw all the repetitions. It is the architect’s way of saying “etc” or “and so on”. Schindler wants to make the point that his system is flexible. This drawing illustrates how the parts of the system come together and not a particular house. The windows, roof, wall placement and height can all change, and he is (over)using the break line to show that. I think he had fun with this drawing, seeing just how much information, and how many break lines, he could jam in.
5 I struggled over the use of color in the model. The original drawing is in black & white. This is a prototypical building, and I was reluctant to make up a specific color scheme. Also, Schindler had strong feelings about color, and his buildings are painted in a range of nature inspired hues 6.  I decided to make the model white. Exposed wood, an important part of the Schindler Frame, is represented by a very greyed-out wood texture, to distinguish it from the plaster below.
6 The owners of his two famous white buildings, the McAlmon and the Buck House, have researched the original colors. Both have told me they believe that the original Schindler colors were not white.

 

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