Once the system was designed, Schindler played with it.
I have selected 3 Schindler Frame houses as examples, to show how the idea was actually built. I look at them in a cross-section through the living room, the area where Schindler creates the most complex spaces.
Daugherty House, 1945-1946
This is the Schindler Frame house that most closely matches the prototype (figs 1). Here, all the roofs are flat (fig 3), where in other Schindler Frame houses he combined flat with sloping roofs. The large living room (fig 2), 16’ x 20’, has a tall +-10’ ceiling/roof (the construction drawings do not have height dimensions). This house illustrates how the Schindler Frame would be applied to rooms where the tongue and groove roof spans more than its 10’ maximum. Beams are used to break up longer spans.
Where the prototype drawing shows a maximum 16” high for the clerestory framing, the clerestory framing here is about 2’-10”. In the text, Schindler explains “If (the clerestory is) higher than 16”, a built-up truss may be substituted”1.
Notice that the beams over the clerestory windows are shallower than the beams in the center of the living room. They have shorter spans, so they can be smaller. Rather than maintain the same depth throughout, a consistent solution most architects would use, these beams are shallower so the clerestory windows can be higher, to let in more light.
Many thanks to Sarah Sherman, Reference Librarian and the Getty Research Institute for letting me use Julius Shulman’s Daugherty House photos. Living room image is copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Schulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10). Rear image is used by permission, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
Roth House, 1945
This house (fig 4) was included as a Schindler Frame example in his 1947 article 2. There are many things going on in this house that are beyond the scope of this series, most importantly the brilliant way this house integrates into and reshapes its steeply sloped site. I will just look at the Schindler Frame and the interior space here.
Although the Schindler Frame prototype shows only flat roofs, Schindler explained in the article “The (roof) plank may be just as easily used for hip or shed roofs.” 3
The complex main ceiling/roof combines flat portions at different heights with a sloped center that includes high windows facing northeast (fig 7). At the living room the long movement of the roof/ceiling ends with an all-glass end that faces the yard and view (fig 5). In the other direction this ceiling shape extends almost the entire length of the house over the living, dining, hall and a bedroom (fig 6). The continuation of the roof/ceiling volumes over different rooms, with high glass in partial height walls, glass that allows your eye to follow that space beyond the room you are in, is a key element of the Schindler Frame.
It is worth noting that in the living room area (where the cross section is drawn), the top plates on either side are at different heights. This break from the prototype and the principles of the Schindler Frame occurs for reasons related to the sloping backyard. The difference in plate heights happens only on one side of the living room. Elsewhere, the top plates jump up to the same height. I point it out as an example. Schindler was not dogmatic, and was willing to change his rules for the design.
Special thanks to formwerks for use of his Roth House photographs. All photographs are copyright formwerks, 2006.
Gold House, 1945-1946
This house (fig 8 ) was also included as an example in the 1947 Schindler Frame article. The living room volume is an almost, but not quite, equally sided gable roof/ceiling (fig 11). The gable volume ends at the fireplace and a corner window that opens to a covered porch (fig 9). Unlike the Roth House, where the view is out the end of the living room, the major view from the Gold House is out the side of the living room. Like the Roth House, the living room volume continues over other spaces. Here it extends beyond the living room over the entry, hall and dining areas. The gable end opposite the living room, visible from the living room, is all glass (fig 10). This open end carries your eye beyond the ceiling and the house.
Special thanks to the Los Angeles Daily News for giving me permission to use some of the photographs from their 10/2010 article on the Gold House. These photographs are copyright of the Los Angeles Daily News, 2010, all rights reserved.
Don’t try this at Home
As I have mentioned in regard to Schindler’s cantilevers, Schindler’s construction techniques do not always meet current standards of practice. A few areas of concern in the Schindler Frame are:
.A single 2×4 turned flat (the continuous single upper plate) is not strong enough to support clerestory windows.
.Water draining from the roofs through slots behind the fascias may rot the fascia, rafters and roof.
.The clerestory window sills, as Schindler drew them, are too close to the lower roofs to properly waterproof.
.The flat roof slopes are inadequate to drain water.
.There are no voids for roof insulation. But in an era where, in Southern California, houses were often built without any insulation, this may not be a fault just of the Schindler Frame.
These concerns do not, in my view, diminish the achievement of the Schindler Frame.
Does this help me to understand Schindler’s later work? My answer is “yes”. Understanding the Schindler Frame lets me put aside my love for the more typically modern Plaster Skin designs and appreciate the Schindler Frame houses on their own terms. Artists’ work often changes over time, and I don’t think it is fair to criticize a new phase just because it is different from the previous one that you are used to.
However, I have to admit that a few of the Schindler Frame houses still leave me wondering. Their exteriors are just so plain. Are they the result of client limitations, or are they a dead-pan rendition of a builder’s house, with a magical surprise inside? Perhaps when I get a chance to visit them, I’ll be able to make up my mind.
“He made poetic use of standard materials.” 4
4 Ester McCoy, “R. M. Schindler” in Five California Architects, pg. 167, (New York: Praeger Publishers,1975).