RM Schindler’s How House, 1925, part 3 of 4, many interesting things

Geometry

As soon as you see the house, you are aware of its obsessive geometry. (figure 1) One part of that obsession is the 16″ horizontal banding. It runs across all the exterior walls, and even over the living room corner window. All the design elements land on these bands: window tops and bottoms, door heads, changes in the building form such as roofs, walls and planters.

The second feature is symmetry, also discussed in part 2. Although there isn’t a diagonal line in the house, there is a very strong perception that the house is mirrored in a plane that runs diagonally through the living room, shaft and terrace. (figures 2-exterior from front yard and 3-living room towards terrace) It was only later that I noticed that things aren’t precisely copied from side to side.

Proportions

The How House, to me, feels different from most other Schindler buildings. Compared to a Schindler building of the same period, like his King’s Road House of 1921-22, (figure 4) the How feels thicker and heavier. I think this is because the thinnest element on the exterior of the How is 16″, where at the King’s Road House elements are much lighter and thinner. There are no thin elements extending out from the building at the How. (figure 5) It is more an assembly of masses than of sticks.

Interior

The interiors of the How feel more traditional (figure 6), as if the house was built before the King’s Road House. (figure 7) The interiors feel half way between the Craftsman style and modern. I think this is due to the use of a contrasting dark brown color on the doors and trim, and the banding of the trim on the plaster walls.

Space

The spaces of the How House are clearly defined as separate, there is none of the spatial flow seen in his later buildings such as the Erlik and the Schindler Frame houses. The living room is cut off from the dining and study by the large masses of the fireplaces and stairs. These spaces open up to each other only at the corners next to the terrace. (figure 8)

The well, or shaft, connecting all the levels is a wonderful element. It feels like a kaleidoscope when you look up through the geometry of the different levels. Schindler wrote “This shaft….emphasiz(es) the spatial unity of the structure.” 1 It is an early effort by Schindler to connect different levels, one that he mostly abandoned in his later buildings where the lower levels are separate.

Light

I visited another Schindler house, the much later Druckman House 1940-42 on the same day I visited the How. When photographing the How, I couldn’t figure out why I was having so much trouble, the Druckman was so easy.

The Schindler Frame Druckman has glass on all sides, windows large and small. (figure 9) The light in the living room is very bright, with little contrast between the view out a window and the walls, ceiling and floor around the window. This makes it very easy to photograph.

The light at the How is different. There is a lot of contrast between the bright windows and the walls, ceiling and floor. This makes it very difficult to photograph and requires lots of adjustment to make the photographs legible. But why, what is different about the How?

One factor is the location and amount of windows in the living room. The windows are concentrated in two opposite corners, unusual for a Schindler design. There are no windows on the other sides 2, very little glass in the higher living room volume. And, for a Schindler, the area of windows is relatively small. This creates small areas of bright light and large dark areas.

Another factor is the change in orientation. The light in the house is not the light it was designed for. The living room corner gets too much direct light, the terrace gets too little.

In thinking about his later buildings I realized that in addition to extending space and creating movement, Schindler’s open spaces bring in light. The light in later Schindler houses bounces all around. Rooms are not uniformly lit, but they are bright and pleasant spaces, easy on the eyes.

Next article: Building the How

1  James Steele, How House, (London: Academy Editions, 1996) pg 28
2
There is one small window in a side wall, near the living room fireplace. It doesn’t add much light to the room.

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