RM Schindler’s Rose Harris House 1942, Analysis continued – part 4 of 5

Some more thoughts

Space

As usual, Schindler creates a world with three roof/ceiling planes (Figure 1). Here the planes are 6’-8”, 8’-0” and 8’-8” high. The first two heights are typical, appearing in most of Schindler’s houses, particularly in his later Schindler Frame Houses. The third 8’-8” plane is unusually low, reflecting the modest budget and small size of the house.

The steps in the ceiling never occur over a wall,  but are offset about 2’-8”. Almost every room has a step in the ceiling. Even the bathroom has a ceiling step, although the room is so small that it would be difficult to see (Fig 2). The steps make the spaces within each room more dynamic and imply spaces that flow through the walls, somewhat like the Erlik house but without the high glass. The ceilings step up to the rear, but also on a diagonal towards the living room southwest corner, making the living room the tallest (8’-8”) space (Fig 3).

The bedroom is the only space without a stepped ceiling. This makes sense after I thought about it. If the bedroom ceiling did step up from 8’-0” to 8’-8”, the living room would no longer be the tallest space and the Schindler diagonal would be lost. If the lowest 6’-8” plane was carried into the bedroom, the floating plane (discussed below) would merge with the 6′-8″ ceiling. The bedroom is still a very dynamic space, open to the entry and living above the 7’-4” closet and open (except for the curtain) to the living room past the closet.

The lowest 6’-8” roof/ceiling plane at the front wraps around the two sides and then extends into the house as 6” thick floating planes (Fig 4). In typical Schindler fashion, these floating planes contain simple built-in lights behind frosted glass. Paired with large windows, they give a strong sense of the house wrapping around and into itself. A third floating plane with lights tops the bedroom closet and extends over the bedroom entry and piano.

Structure

Except for the roof structure, this house appears to be Schindler Frame construction (there are no details in the construction drawings). Instead of the Schindler Frame roof of 2x flooring spanning 10’, we have 1x roofing and ¼” ply resting on 3×6 rafters spaced 2’-0” center-to-center. Built after the Schindler Frame Gold House of 1940-1941, I can’t explain the difference in roof structure. Perhaps it is due to the “defense housing restrictions” and limited building materials.

The structural gymnastics, along with the spatial gymnastics, occur in the ceiling/roof planes. The floor is flat and supported by walls and beams in a standard fashion. The roof structure of three planes steps twice over the middle of the house (Fig 1). Each higher plane rests one end on the edge of the next lower plane. Beams, one at 6’-8” and the other at 8’-0”, support each step.The support of the outer ends of the roof rafters gets a little tricky. Some “solid” rafters (green) rest on an outside wall or post and cantilever past that support. Other rafters (blue) are over windows that do not give any support to the outer ends (Fig 5). How are these “floating” rafters supported? Using the same method as the McAlmon Apartment, the floating rafters are supported by their fascias. And what holds up the fascias? The “solid” rafters do. This creates a complicated system of support where rafters next to each other, rafters that look identical, are working in completely different ways. Note that the longest run of “floating” rafters is in the highest roof plane, over the rear living room window and about 12’ long. This long run of rafters is supported by the biggest fascia, a 2×14 instead of the 2×8 of the middle and lower planes. This is why the highest plane has the thickest edge.The end result of this system, where the different structural roles that different elements play is not expressed, is roof planes that appear to float without support.

Exterior

As mentioned in “stage set” above, the front elevation is very different from the other 3 sides. It is long, low and tied to the ground versus short, vertical and floating above the slope.

The offset bedroom and bathroom are expressed in the side and rear elevations as a separate volume from the living room, with a lower roof, lower garage opening heights (extended from the top of the garage door, this creates very different proportions), ‘X’ lateral bracing, two projecting wall fin “ladders” and a green roofing wrapped pop-out (Fig 6). The living room, with its tall basement openings, simple projecting roof and lack of detail, is the least Schindler-esque part. It looks like a simple builder’s shed (Fig 7). When viewed from the patio, the front elevation plane zooms past, looking tacked on to a different house (Fig 8).

All the windows, except for the narrow bath window, have a decorative horizontal mullion 16” above the sill, marking Schindler’s modular dimension system (Fig 9).

Schindler was the master of clerestory windows wedged between roof planes, but they hardly appear in this house. The clerestory windows in the bedroom and living room are stacked above the continuous top plate, in Schindler Frame style, below the roof (Fig 10). The only clerestory window above a roof plane is a small one jammed between the fireplace and the roof (Fig 11).I think this house’s popularity is due to the front elevation, which is designed in his preferred Plaster Skin style. Significantly, this house shows how Plaster Skin elevations can be combined with the Schindler Frame construction system.Schindler’s designs are often criticized for being unbuildable, with difficult details and fragile, paper-thin elements. This house however, is a very buildable Schindler design. It does not rely on difficult clerestories wedged between roofs, and has thick, buildable roof edges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *