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Southern California was made for architecture, I’m convinced of it. Large, diverse and sprawling, you can fill your days searching out fine examples. A great place to start is West Hollywood, a location that offers designs by Frank Lloyd Wright, Lloyd Wright, Neutra , Gill, Lautner, Gehry, a variety of lesser known names, but in particular, R. M. Schindler.
Last fall I spent a few days there immersing myself in LA Architecture. I attended a UCLA extension class that focused on adding value to real estate through architecture. Who ever heard of such a thing? It’s gratifying to know there are others out there in like mind.
What was interesting is that class coincided with the anniversary of R M Schindler’s birthday. I had planned to visit his original LA residence on Kings in West Hollywood. I arrived the day before class (and Schindler’s birthday) and went right to the house since the light was good and the skies clear. The house is easy to find and parking is not too bad. There were just a handful of visitors.
The approach to the home is very modest and a small plaque plus an historical sign marked the spot. A hedge of mature Giant Bamboo lined a gravel path to the MAK Center and entry to the home. One pays a modest entry fee and has the run of a self guided tour.
Schindler designed and constructed this home in 1929 in a plan that would essentially be considered a duplex. Schindlers work under Frank Lloyd Wright certainly is evident in the home, yet there are clear indications of this man’s future work and expression reflected here as well.
There is a large amount of compression at the entry (read extreme) which allows significant relief upon entry. This makes the remaining spaces feel huge in comparison. This effect belies the actually very modest ceiling heights in the rest of the structure. The scale and serenity and comfort that come from this very human scale are remarkable. One tends to forget what joy smaller spaces can be spatially.
Materials are predominantly wood and cast tilt-up concrete panels. Exterior wall panels are often very thin and translucent, Shoji-like in nature. The home certainly represents a place, time and climate that allowed for successful experimentation architecturally. With current building and seismic codes nothing even close to the lightness of being this home has could be constructed today.
The home’s compact physical size is easy to relate to. It’s not unlike the later Usonian Houses by FLLW. The term “ship” like came to mind often. There is a wonderful rich patina about the place, amazing, since the cast concrete is beautiful, but had at one time been painted. Stripping the paint was a major expense in the restoration of these twin homes.
Indoor/outdoor relationships are superb as only they can be within fifty miles of coastal Southern California microclimates (and in Arizona for about six months of the year!). The light is serene and comforting, and the grounds conjure up visions of a tea ceremony.
It was interesting to see who was there: a few Austrians on an architectural heritage mission and a local high school group enjoying a field trip sketch fest first class. The MAK CENTER FOR ART AND ARCHITECTURE LA maintains the property and needs support. On-site there is a nice selection of architecture books. Admission is a modest $7.00 and if you come on Schindler’s birthday, admission is free AND there is a book discount too, so plan on next October 10th!
Since you’ll be in West Hollywood, you should take the time to check out and enjoy the plethora of nearby design sensitive shops on Melrose Avenue. The home is a short walk to one of our favorites: Fitsu Society for all your design item needs, and almost next door is Denmark 50,which is self explanatory and a must see if you like mid century modern and Scandinavian-designed furniture.
Superb coffee, amazing desserts and healthy, fresh food can be had down the street at Urth caffé, a small local chain that I’d love to see here (anyone who knows me well is aware of my coffee and pie problem). If tea is your thing, check out e.lix.r Tonics and Teas where if you have the time, you can be offered up a pot of Jasmine Pearl green tea, served in the simple and serene garden courtyard that belies the fact that you are in one of the largest metro-city complexes in the United States. Might be a nice time to relax and read that architecture book you just bought at R.M.’s house…