RM Schindler’s Elmer House, 1952 (unbuilt), Form, part 4 of 5

Form/Packaging

Thanks to Linda Theung for letting me use her photos of the Kallis House. (figs 5 & 7) Photos are copyrighted by Linda, all rights reserved.

Thanks to Dale East for letting me use his photo of the Kallis House (fig 6). Photo is copyrighted by Dale, all rights reserved.

Thanks to Chris Jepsen for letting me link to his wonderful googie website.

Thanks to Tom Lundin and his wonderful ModMidMod site for letting me use his Biff’s digital model to create my night-time image 8.

Image

The Elmer House shows Schindler’s skill in turning a modest house into a memorable image. He was an expert at packaging humble into powerful.

Like the Harris House, a tiny house is made to appear much larger. In the Elmer House, the carport and yard/garden are combined with the living spaces, spread out under a roof that ties them all together. Removing the carport and yard roof, the house is completely different and greatly diminished. (fig 1)

The style (for lack of a better word) of the house is very interesting. The idea of rotated rectangular frames is not unique to Schindler. It can be traced back at least to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West Studio building, started in 1937. The Taliesin Studio features large, tilted, rectangular wooden frames resting on angled end walls. The roof is bracketed between these large rotated rectangles.

From there, this form takes some unexpected turns. Schindler rotated half-frames and the roof, but not the walls, in his Rodriguez House, 1940-42. (figs 2-4) In the Kallis House of 1946 he used angled walls, roofs and rotated rectangles.(figs 5-7) In the Kallis house, however, both end walls and roofs slope into the center, forming a butterfly roof.

The rotated rectangle is then embraced as one of the key features of the emerging “googie” style of architecture. This style, noted for its use of new materials, modernistic forms and futuristic imagery, was developed for the emerging automobile oriented coffee shops and restaurants in Los Angeles. Rotated frames are prominent in an early googie building, Douglas Honnald’s Biff’s prototype of 1950. (fig 8 )

By 1952, building down the street from his Kallis House, Schindler uses a huge rotated rectangle that simultaneously recalls Wright, the Kallis House and googie architecture (fig 9). It is the space age rocket I see from the terrace (fig 10). I am sure that Schindler was aware of both Taliesin (he had worked with Wright from 1917 to 1920) and the googie style developing in his city. Unlike the flat lot drive-ins and the horizontal, earth-directed Taliesin, Schindler carried the space-age googie imagery to its logical conclusion. He separated his house from the ground and launched it into space.

But there is another element in the Elmer House, the flat -roofed center. This section is different not only in its interior space, but in its exterior design.(fig 11) It is designed in a contrasting Schindler style, the Plaster Skin style that Schindler developed from 1928 to 1940. Many of his later buildings are a mix of different styles. The Roth House, for example, is a combination of Schindler Frame, builder and Plaster Skin elements. In his later built houses the different styles come together in a loose way. In the Elmer House, even though they are unified with the same color, the two parts of the house in their different styles don’t mix as much as they contrast. The Plaster Skin style is kept to the flat roof volume, it contrasts with the googie rotated box. Schindler is self-consciously playing two styles against each other. One style is his own early Plaster Skin, Schindler is doing Schindler. The other is simultaneously his, his take on Wright’s work and his version of the new, futuristic googie style. It is fascinating to me that in one of his last works, designed between his two operations and near the end of his life, he seems to sum up his entire career. There is his past with Wright, his earlier Plaster Skin buildings, his present Schindler Frame, and his uncertain future, out towards the horizon, in the googie style. (fig 12)

 

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