RM Schindler’s Elmer House, 1952 (unbuilt), part 1 of 5

Blame it on Ester and Judith

“All of his periods were the result of change in the economy except for the last – which one can hardly call a period because he had no opportunity to carry it forward than one house….. But the presence of so many three-quarter height screen walls is haunting. The (Skolnick) house (fig 2) is essentially a carousel, an open space with a merry-go-round in the middle. …How he would have continued we can’t say.”

“Would Schindler have continued in the path of the Skolnick design versus the path of the Janson and Tischler houses?” 2

The Elmer House was one of Schindler’s last designs. The topographic site survey is dated 10/1951, the construction drawings are dated 1952 3. At the end of 1951 and the beginning of 1952 construction on the Skolnick House was delayed for his first operation. At the end of 1952, he went to the hospital for a second operation. He died of cancer, at the age of 66, on Aug 22, 1953 4.

What if?

In researching the Schindler Frame, I got to reread Ester McCoy’s and Judith Scheine’s wonderful writing on Schindler. They both asked the question “What if? What would Schindler have done if he had lived longer?” That got me thinking. I remembered images of the Elmer House in Scheine’s book r.m.schindler.5 The images were small and hard to read, but tantalizing in the strangeness of the design they suggested. I decided to model it, to see where Schindler might have gone. There is a complete set of construction drawings of the house, or at least as complete as any Schindler set gets, and I used it to construct my model.

The model

Where information was missing, I made it up. This includes

.Color  The construction drawings do not have any color information. I chose a grey/green that he often used on his later buildings. The lapped roofing on the end walls I made green, the same color he used on the Kaun, De Keyser and Harris Houses. I used the same grey/green color for the interior and exterior plaster. The interior wood is also the same grey/green color, in a semi-transparent stain.

.Landscaping  The extent of the terrace is clearly shown in the drawings, but there is no landscape plan. The plant selection and location, the paving of the terrace and walks to the yard and garden are mine.

.Furniture  The plans show the few pieces of built-in furniture – the couch and the nook. Free-standing furniture is sketched in on the floor plan, but not detailed. I designed free-standing furniture to match the sketch, two types of chairs and a dining table in the spirit of Schindler’s scrap wood furniture.

.Miscellaneous  The construction drawings hint at fences around the service (clothes drying) yard, but do not show how they would have been built. The play room handrails are also not detailed.

.Changes  Schindler was known for changes at the construction site. I have followed the construction drawings as closely as possible. The improvisation that contributes so much to Schindler’s built work is missing here.

The House

The house is down the street from a famous Schindler House, the Kallis House,1945. There is a house on the site of the Elmer House (fig 3). It was built in 1959, is not this design and is not a Schindler house.

The street is a narrow curving road through the hills in the Cahunga Pass area, on the south edge of Studio City. The steep topography in this area slopes up from the street on the south side, and drops down from the street on the north side. The Elmer House site is on the north side of the street, steeply sloping down the hill. (figs 4, 5)

The house is modest, I assume the budget was small. There is a two car carport, a combination living/dining room, kitchen with a large laundry area, 2 bedrooms, one bath, a deck shared by the two bedrooms and a unique open air playroom on the lower floor. (fig 6) A south facing clerestory runs down the center of the house. Unusual for Schindler there is no fireplace, probably because supports for a masonry fireplace so far above the ground would be too expensive.

The carport is turned away from the street, entered by a triangular driveway. The house itself is down the hill at a lower height on the slope. There is a narrow 10’ to 12’ wide level space between the house and carport. This level space continues the full width of the lot. On this strip, starting at the west side and moving to the east, is a garden, then the ramp/stair connecting to the carport, and a service yard accessed from the laundry area.  Beyond the yard and past the house, to the east, is a long, narrow terrace. The house and terrace face north to the view down the hill.

This list of spaces does not begin to convey the impression of the house. A large roof slopes down with the grade, forming the carport, then running over the yard to become the roof/ceiling of the rear half of the house.(fig 7) The end walls of the roof, covered in overlapping planes of green asphalt roofing, slope at right angles to the roof. The roof and end walls give the impression of a huge rectangular box that has been rotated, or tilted, to follow the hill.

The house is built into and beneath parts of this box. The living room and one of the bedrooms are enclosed by the sloping roof. Between the two ends of the box, between the carport and the living room, there is a flat-roofed building in Schindler’s earlier Plaster Skin style. The back living room/bedroom wall, facing the view, leans out over the steep slope below. The leaning walls and tilting roof give a very unsettling feeling that, at any second, you may slide down the hill.(fig 8 ) From the terrace (fig 1), the design resembles nothing so much as a 1950’s spaceship taking off towards the horizon. .

A very interesting house. (animation)

Next: Designing the site and house

1  Ester McCoy, “Schindler at work, an appreciation”, RM Schindler: Composition and Construction, eds. Lionel March and Judith Scheine (London: Ernst & Sohn, 1993) pg 259
2  Judith Scheine, R.M. Schindler (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2001) pg 237
3  David Gebhard editor, The Architectural Drawings of RM Schindler (The Architectural Drawings Collection, University art Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara, 1993) volume 1, pgs 856-860
4  Scheine, loc.cit.

5  Judith Scheine, r.m. schindler(Barcelona:GG, 1998), pgs 228-229

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