RM Schindler’s How House, 1925, part 1 of 4, introduction

Can’t help myself…

The How House has been extensively documented and analyzed.1 Before I visited it, I thought I would just do one article of my photos. After all, what could I say that hasn’t already been said? However, I changed my mind after I visited the house. I noticed things I hadn’t expected, things that I wanted to figure out and explain. My simple article has grown to include a digital model and analysis, so I can talk about what I found.

Thanks to the owners of the How House for generously inviting me to visit their home.

Introduction

Mr. How had an interesting story. He graduated from Harvard Medical School, tried to give his fortune to the Socialist Party but was prevented by relatives, rode freight trains across the country and helped found the Hobo College in Chicago in 1913. He let hobos walk up the hill from the train tracks and sleep in this house. He hired Schindler to design his house in 1925. 2

The house is located on the top of a ridge, with views of the Los Angeles River Valley to the east and (when originally built but now blocked by other homes) of the Silver Lake Reservoir to the west. (plan, figure 1) Like the Harris and Oliver houses, the How is moved off the level area of the site and on to the slope. The level area becomes the front yard. The house sits on a very steep downhill slope. From the front the house appears to be one story with a tall volume in the center. (figure 2) The truly massive lower floor is now largely invisible due to the heavy growth of eucalyptus trees and the steep slopes around the house. (figure 3)

Shared living spaces are on the upper floor: living, dining, kitchen, Mr. How’s study. (living towards entry-figure 4, study-figure 5, dining-figure 6) A large terrace on the opposite side from the front yard faces the view to the east. (figure 7) A loft, accessed by a hidden ships ladder, surrounds the upper living on two sides. (figure 8) Private living spaces are on the lower level: 2 bedrooms, guest room, maid’s room, 2 bathrooms, a study for Mrs. How and a one-car garage (figure 9). An open shaft (labeled “well” on Schindler’s plan) extends from the lower floor through the terrace. (figure 10) It lets in light, connects the two levels visually and provides a view from the bottom of the house up to the top – the intricate living room ceiling. (figure 11)

The upper floor is built of redwood framing. The exterior is made of horizontal boards with a projecting “drip” detail. Interior walls are redwood and plaster. The lower floor is built of concrete, using Schindler’s “slab-cast” system. With this system concrete is poured one day, the forms are lifted up the next day and another band of concrete is poured. Horizontal bands on the forms and the vertical supports for the forms leave a system of horizontal and vertical grooves in the finished concrete. The horizontal bands on the upper wood story and the horizontal grooves in the concrete are spaced at 16″ center-to-center – Schindler’s 16″ dimensional module. The vertical grooves in the concrete are spaced 8′ apart – six 16″ modules. (figure 12)

Next: A Mystery Solved

Footnotes

1 Excellent sources include:

March, Lionel and Sheine, Judith eds. RM Schindler Composition and Construction. London: Academy Editions and Ernst & Sons, 1993

Sheine, Judith R. M. Schindler. London: Phaidon Press, 2001

Sheine, Judith R.M. Schindler 10 Houses. Barcelona: GG, 1997

Steele, James How House. London: Academy Editions, 1996

2 James Steele, How House, (London: Academy Editions, 1996) pgs 9-11

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