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The First Modern California House?

The First Modern California House?
Modern design takes center stage.
We visited the Kings Road house in West Hollywood, California by architect Rudolph Schindler in order to get a glimpse of the roots of Modernism. It is now the headquarters of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which is a contemporary, experimental, multi-disciplinary organization. Designed for himself and his wife Pauline and for their friends Clyde and Marian Chace, the house is considered by many to be the first Modernist house in California and some architectural historians consider it the first Modernist house in the United States.

The Austrian-born Schindler wrote his own manifesto in 1912 asserting that the modern architect’s job was to take control of “space, climate, light and mood." After emigrating to Los Angeles and working in Frank Lloyd Wright’s office to help with the building of the Hollyhock house, Schindler decided to set out on his own. He began with this, his own house, built in 1922.

Schindler’s “honest use of materials,” integration of interior and exterior spaces, and open floor plan all mark a move away from historical styles and toward the beginnings of a modern architecture. The Schindler House made use of new ways of living as well as new materials. It was arranged communally to be shared by two families with a total integration of indoor and outdoor living. [Think of  the house as a very early precursor to the sharing economy and Airbnb!]

(Floor plan courtesy, MAK Center, Friends of the Schindler House, gift of Mrs. Richard Neutra.) The courtyards, shown on the plan as patios, were meant to be outdoor living rooms to take 

advantage of the temperate climate, and each included a fireplace and adjacent garden. Exterior rooms were articulated by level changes, and privacy was achieved by means of bamboo and other plantings. 

Sleeping porches on the roof, which resemble modernist pergolas and which Schindler called "baskets," added to the evocative Southern California mystique.

New materials included the use of precast concrete.  Panels were made in 4 foot sections that could be hoisted into place by one or two workers. Invented by Schindler. this tilt slab system was a low cost way of using concrete in residential construction and a way to give the house a sense of permanence. The 

concrete formed an interior “cave” and was fused to the more delicate windows and translucent doors.

The Schindler house illustrates the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as of Japanese architecture. (Wright had recently completed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.) Wright loved the simplicity and emphasis on natural materials of traditional Japanese homes and Schindler translated these ideas into

delicate redwood windows, exposed redwood beams and translucent, movable panels. Light is brought into each room by way of corner windows, clerestory windows, and translucent sliding panels that open to the courtyards.

The Japanese view that we are part of the flow of nature and not separate from it finds echoes in the harmony between inside and outside spaces and the emphasis on indoor-outdoor living. The openness of the building plan, the connections between inside and outside, and the emphasis on natural materials all influenced the development of Modernism in residential design. The house is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm; admission is $10/ $7 for students and seniors. See Makcenter.org for more information.

To browse a collection of Modern plans click here.

The First Modern California House? Inspiration

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