RM Schindler’s Oliver House and the Corner, part 3 of 5

Unraveling the corner

Like the McAlmon Apartment, and most of Schindler’s houses, the Oliver House has lots of movement. In the Mc Almon Apartment the horizontals move out in different directions. In the Oliver House, all the movement points to the front corner where, for me, it meets and moves out into space (Figure 1).

One thing that adds to the movement is the cantilever of the front corner. This two-sided cantilever seems, in typical Schindler fashion, to be floating. The cantilever separates the front corner from the ground, and reinforces its horizontal proportions and movement. Figure 2 shows what the house would look like without the cantilever-not so dynamic.

Also like the McAlmon Apartment, the form of the Oliver House makes  your eye move. At the McAlmon Apartment, your eye seems to wander around from shape to shape, corner to corner in no particular pattern. At the Oliver House the movement of your eye is in a closed circle (Figure 3). The long, mostly uninterrupted ribbon window and the blank walls at either end of the loop help to keep your eye moving along the horizontal and then turning back at the ends. As you look at the house, your eye keeps moving past the corner.

Movement and proportions, these don’t seem to be enough to explain my fascination with the corner. I think what grabs me is that the two sides of the corner are drastically different, yet they flow one into the other. The left side emphasizes mass with the ribbon window recessed into the thickness of the cantilever. The right side emphasizes flatness with the long flat front plane of the house 1. The two sides are connected together by the roof, which projects above the ribbon window in the same way on both sides. The roof gives the sense that the two sides are the same-its just a corner. All of this sets up a tension at the corner-the upper part is the same, the lower part (and how your mind perceives them) is different (Figure 4). Figures 5 and 6 show what the house might look like if the two sides were similar, either both thick (Figure 5) or both flat (Figure 6). It is still interesting when both sides are the same, but something important gets lost.

As your eye moves back and worth past the corner, the corner keeps changing 2-thick to flat, simple to complicated. It is like an optical illusion that keeps changing- is it a vase or is it two faces? Although the Oliver House looks fairly calm and simple-it isn’t simple at all. The corner is a magic trick, it seems so easy – but its so hard to figure out how he does it.

1 The front plane is also flat in this area, below the ribbon window, so you don’t hit your head on a cantilever as you walk up the stairs to the front door. But then again, the ribbon window could have been recessed into the front plane.
2 This change of your mental “reading” is similar to what I discussed in my McAlmon Apartment article, part 3.