RM Schindler’s How House, 1925, part 4 of 4, form

Not so much building as analyzing

Form

I thought the How House was pretty simple, until I tried to draw a floor plan. I then started a model to help me understand it, and found out how complex it really is.  Although I present this analysis in a linear form, “building” the How House, it was designed as a whole and not in a step-by-step fashion. (figure 1)

Start with the symmetry on the diagonal I mentioned in my first article. Add to that the idea of interlocking “L” shapes and squares, and you have the basic organizational diagram for the How. (figure 2)

NOTE: I can’t help pointing out that Schindler was the contractor for most of his buildings. He knew construction methods and tools. One tool that carpenters use is a carpenter’s square. This is a flat metal “L”. Anyone who has played with two carpenter’s squares, sliding them one over the other, will recognize the How diagram.

Begin the house with the flat upper floor and the symmetrical concrete lower walls. (figure 3) Note that the lower concrete base extends vertically straight up from the ground to the overhanging second floor elements, the top of the terrace rail or the top of the upper roofs.

A strong “L”, which I will call the upper “L”, is formed by walls running through the middle of the upper floor. It holds all the major spaces: living, dining and study – separated by the fireplaces and stair. It wraps around the well and the terrace.  (figure 4)

Add a second, floating “L”, turned 180 degrees from the first “L”. I call this the lower “L”. It is colored yellow in the model.  It wraps around the living room and the front yard. Set its height lower than normal, at door height of 6′-8″ (five 16″ modules). Like all roof planes at the How, make it 16″ (one module) thick. (figure 5)

Put a ceiling/roof on the upper “L”. It is colored green in the model. Make this ceiling a “normal” 8′ high (six 16″ modules). The roof/parapet of the upper “L” is also one 16″ module thick. (figure 6)

A flat 8′ living room ceiling is too low and uninteresting. Cut a square hole in the ceiling of the upper “L”. Offset this opening along the diagonal symmetry plane, 4′ away from the living room walls and overlapping 8′ onto the lower roof. The 8′ lower roof overlap forms the loft around two sides of the living room. On top of this square hole, put a wood box 8′ high (six 16″ modules). (figures 7 and 8) Emphasize the diagonal plane of symmetry and the rectangular geometry with the famous interlocking roof framing. (figure 9)

So far, everything is (mostly) symmetrical.  The living/dining fireplace isn’t identical to the stair/study fireplace, but close enough. Now its time to look at the the wings extending from the living room. The lower “L” roof extends out on both sides in the same way, but the two wings aren’t symmetrical. The kitchen wing is longer and more centered under the lower “L”. The entry wing is shorter and wraps further around the living room. (figure 10)

But parts of the kitchen and the entry stick out past the two “L”s (figure 11). What to do here? The solution is, I think, a compromise. It looks good from the ground but it doesn’t fit well into the ideas of the interlocking “L”s and the symmetry. The areas that stick out are covered in roofs at the 8′, upper “L”  height. They overlap the lower L, blend into the upper “L” and look like like asymmetrical bumps. (figure 12) 1.  The lower “L” is cut out over the kitchen, to create an 8′ high ceiling. (figure 13)

Now you have the How House. (figures 14 and 15)

This is obviously a highly abstract and somewhat arbitrary game of geometry. Much of it isn’t really noticed when you are there. Because the rooms are separated without visible flow of space, I didn’t notice the lower “L” when I was there. I saw interesting ceiling changes that defined and articulated spaces, but not the “L” as one shape. I didn’t notice that the upper “L” forms the ceiling of the study and dining, the fireplaces hid that. And on the outside, I didn’t notice the asymmetrical kitchen and entry roofs, the trees blocked my view. I only saw them when I looked at my model with transparent trees. (figure 16)

Architectures

There are two architectures in the How. The living room and concrete base are an architecture of cubes with no roof overhangs. The only eave, over the terrace, looks like it is left over from carving out a cube. (figure 17)

The wings are very different. With their long horizontal eaves casting shadows on recessed walls and the horizontal banding, they remind me of Wright’s later Usonian houses. (figure 18 – side wings of the How combined to make a house)

Schindler is known (and sometimes criticized) for blending different architectures in his later works, but it looks like he started this much earlier than I had realized.

 

There is still much here that I haven’t touched on. The How, like all of Schindler’s buildings, has layers and layers of ideas, beautifully combined into one building.

 

And I thought this would be one short article….

 

NOTE

1 Schindler considered another solution. In a doodle on one of the design drawings, Schindler considered creating an additional roof plane over these areas. This new plane was 16″ higher than the upper “L”. This would have made these secondary spaces more (too?) prominent, which I would guess is why he took another direction.

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