Schindler’s McAlmon Guest House, part 3 of 3 – Analysis

Analysis, second part 


The guest house is made from pieces that are connected together to form the whole building. You can see them most clearly at the edges, where the individual planes stretch out (top illustration).


Due to their shape and proportions, these pieces seem to be in motion. Not only do the pieces have motion, but the way they are stacked together (massing) creates additional diagonal movement. They each seem to move in different directions, and together they make a building that moves (second illustration).

Moving Forms, Moving Eye

I think that all this dynamic sculpture makes your eye constantly move around the building, following the implied motion of the pieces.

Connected Forms

There is a strange thing about the way the pieces are assembled. Rather than clearly separating the pieces, the way most architects do, all the pieces run into each other. They are on the same plane or meet at a common corner.

One way architects separate forms is by offsetting them so they are different planes. The third illustration “reinterprets” the guest house by offsetting the pieces to separate them, while making as few changes as possible. This reconstruction keeps much of the horizontal and dynamic features, but I think it is less interesting than the original (fourth illustration). There is something missing, something important.

Changing Interpretations

The dynamic form keeps your eye moving. The connected forms cause the perception of what you are looking at to change as your eye moves. The fifth illustration shows some of these combined forms-the red lines show where you look to see the forms combine or transform. My mind and eye have an internal dialogue. “Its the side plane or is it the middle plane, its the side plane and the chimney, its the side and the middle plane again, its the middle and the upper plane, no its the folded plane, its the side plane or is it the garage wall?” This mental process happens when you look at the building and doesn’t stop or have a neat resolution. There isn’t one simple concept that can explain how all the parts come together.

Not only does the building look like its moving when its standing still, it makes your mind move too.

That’s what I like about Schindler.

OK, that’s not all I like about Schindler. I also think his buildings are full of many ideas worth pursuing. Here are a few more for the guesthouse.

.How can this kind of building be built, using current materials and methods?

.What is the relationship between construction and form? Many of the most striking features, such as the one sided cantilevers, extended side plane and upturned parapet, make sense structurally as well as aesthetically.

.Improvisation within a system-the neutral 4’ grid and the dynamic results.

.The folded plane-how does it fit in? The folded plane seems to be the most contradictory element. Thinner than the other horizontal planes, cutting off the middle and upper planes, it looks like a folded piece of paper. I love it.

.Context: how does the design respond to the sun, views,…?

.The interior: The living room is very different at different heights. The room is strongly symmetrical along a diagonal at the clerestory level, strongly oriented to the front below. The room strangely doesn’t open up much to the large terrace.

.Visual theater. The sculptural effects occur where they are most visible, the building is designed for dramatic effect.

.I have focused on the entry (left) side here, to keep things short. The front and right sides are very different from the left (see the exterior animation in part 1).

.The front elevation can be seen as the result of shifting the living room to the left and stretching the garage to the right, starting with balance and ending with dynamic imbalance.