RM Schindler’s Rose Harris House, 1942, Analysis completed, part 5 of 5

A few final thoughts

 Furniture

The only furniture Rose needed to buy for this house was the bed (which could have been built by Schindler for all I know) and the piano. All the other furniture is built-in, mostly of plywood. (Figures 1 and 2). The furniture shapes the space and is part of the design.

The plywood wainscot in the living room runs from the fireplace, behind the couch and dining area, then takes a Schindler notch around the kitchen pass-through. It reminds me of the front elevation.

The green roofing wrapped pop-out below the bedroom window contains a planter box and a built-in dresser for the bedroom (Fig 3).

Precedents

There are many elements in the Harris House that also occur in other Schindler houses.

The entry procession (see a Visit to Rose animation) starts at 45 degrees to the front and then turns, similar to the Oliver House. The entry stair turns and runs along the wall, in a 4’ wide slot, similar to the Oliver House and the McAlmon Apartment. In all three houses (Harris, Oliver and McAlmon), the entry offset forms a strong horizontal slot in a flat vertical plane on the elevation. The resulting “C” shape of the Oliver and McAlmon Apartment is similar to the “?” shape in the Harris House.

Grouping of the fireplace, couch and window are similar to the Kaun, Oliver, De Keyser Houses and many more.

The extended pergola that ties the house to the landscape is similar to the Walker, Wilson (pergola planned but not built) and Fitzpatrick Houses.

A small, built-in piano space/sculpture also occurs in the Oliver House.
The carport/garage with diagonal braces is similar to the Erlik and Skolnik houses.

Photography

Schindler was fortunate to work with such a wonderful photographer. Sometimes I think that Schindler’s fame is as much due to Shulman’s photographs as to Schindler’s designs. Shulman understood and captured the essence of Schindler’s designs. Whenever I look for the best positions for model images, I wind up where Shulman took his photos.

His skill can be seen in the famous front photograph of the Harris House (Fig 4). It emphasizes the flat, horizontal front, strongly moving to the left. If the camera was adjusted a little to the right, the side would be visible and detract from the strength of the front elevation. (Fig 5) If the camera was a few feet higher, or if he had moved to the left up the sloping street, the stepped roof and chimney would be visible and break the strong horizontal of the front wall. (Fig 6)

Matching the shadows in my model with the photographs, Shulman took his photographs approximately on October 10 (or March 4), starting at about 8:30AM and ending about 12 noon.

Strong form/strong idea

I first noticed this in the McAlmon Apartment, where a post that is required to support the roof subverts the idea that the roof is a cantilevered floating mass. You see the post, but the forms of the building and the idea of the floating planes are so strong that your mind overlooks it. The design overcomes the limits of materials, craft and/or budget.

Schindler frequently used this approach, he was often pushing against small budgets and always against the limits of materials and craftspeople. Some examples of strong ideas/forms in the Harris House are:

.Maybe the biggest is the front elevation. I still love the building it pretends to be even though I know it’s a stage set.

.The front elevation reads as a plane with a long slot, even though the slot is interrupted by posts and windows and turns into a pergola of very flimsy construction. (Fig 7)

.Again on the front, the thin 2×2 (or metal rod) that continues the decorative middle line of the kitchen windows into the trellis. You know the openings aren’t windows, you know the 2×2 isn’t part of a window, but it still works and the strong line continues. (Fig 7)

.The roof planes that wrap into the house as floating ceiling planes. You know the roof and the planes are two very different pieces. The exterior is either solid roof or open beams, the interior is painted plaster or lights. The bottom of the interior ceiling planes is 2” higher than the bottom of the exterior roof floating planes, to accommodate curtain tracks above the windows. With all this, the effect of planes slicing into the interior is very strong (Figs 8,9 and 10).

Conclusion

Small house, big ideas.

Figures

1   Furniture viewed from door to patio
2   Furniture viewed from piano
3   Green asphalt roofing covered pop-out
4   Front, photograph by Julius Shulman
5   Front, slightly to the right of Shulman’s photo
6   Front, slightly higher than Shulman’s photo
7   Front elevation
8   Wrapping roof at fireplace, viewed from window seat
9   Same wrapping roof, viewed from approximately half way up ramp

10 Wrapped roof at bedroom

3 thoughts on “RM Schindler’s Rose Harris House, 1942, Analysis completed, part 5 of 5”

  1. Schindler’s original plans show the garage as “open” without doors (this based on the drawing in Boehm’s book). Do you think he intended for this space to be open?

    1. Robert

      You are right, the front construction drawing elevation, on page 34 of Boehm’s “Schindler and the Small House”, doesn’t show the garage door.

      This is one example of Schindler’s loose approach to construction drawings. The garage doors aren’t required to get a building permit, so he just didn’t draw them. If you compare the drawing to the photo (one of my favorite pastimes) you can see another discrepancy. The bathroom window was built narrower than it was drawn.

      I think Schindler intended the garage doors to be part of the composition. To me the best proof is that they are closed in Shulman’s photos, emphasizing the planar quality of the front elevation. Also, the doors are flush with the post holding up the right corner of the house. This hides the post and makes the doors read as a recessed plane-indicating to me that Schindler designed all of this (the doors, the post, the front elevation) together.

      1. Thanks for the response! I had forgotten about Schindler modifying plans as he built.

        And btw, great series of posts on this house, especially the bits about the loss of the structure.

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