building a reproduction of Schindler's Lovell Beach House side table

Last October, a curious thing happened: An original (circa 1922) side table from R.M. Schindler's Lovell Beach House appeared on Ebay. It was far too expensive to tempt temptation, not to mention that it looked like it had re-entered the atmosphere and didn't have papers. But the seller included a great collection of photos of the table from different perspectives. "Hmmmm...." I hmmmed, "That looks buildable."

So I called my friends at Coulbury Design about building a reproduction (if you recall, they also built us a stunning reproduction of Eileen Gray's de Stijl table). Here's the Schindler before sealing:

Wow! I really like how they improvised and put a darker piece of wood in the center to bring out that plane. The 1922 original was made of redwood, but we chose oak for ours (better to match the wood in our house). It goes off to the finisher before it comes home. We'll need to find a good place for it.


introducing.... The R.M. Schindler List

Schindler and his dog Prince, in front of the Kings Road House. A friend left Prince with Schindler to dogsit and then never came back to retrieve him.

If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know of my unhealthy man-crush on R.M. Schindler ("It's kinda funny that you are in love with a dead architect," observes the bride from time to time.). I have the house to thank for that.

Before we built, and between the architectural episodes required to design our house, I decided to try to understand architects and Modern architecture better. There were the early infatuations with Le Corbusier (a good rebound relationship), Frank Lloyd Wright (impeccably behaved during the first date; chewing with his mouth open and spitting on the second), and Richard Neutra (a sloppy and unsatisfying one-night stand), but then there was Schindler. Schindler was the real take-him-home-to-show-mama deal.

There's much to like and admire about Schindler. He was truly brilliant and truly ahead of his time. He was also a truly likable guy. Unlike his cohorts, particularly Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra who sought to destroy Schindler for influencing them (and largely succeeded during their lifetimes), Schindler realized architecture was an ongoing dialog and there was no shame in acknowledging the dialog. You didn't reduce your stature by acknowledging your past and contemporary influences; you simply acknowledged reality and continued on with your work. Although Schindler had every right to hate Wright (and to a certain degree did), Schindler continued to acknowledge Wright's brilliance and goals for America throughout his career. It's how an adult behaves.

And then there's his architecture. Daring, sculptural, Modern, and decades ahead of its time. During the 1920s onward, Schindler was a true innovator that provided an undercurrent of influence to Modernism that went unacknowledged until recently. Schindler was disappointed at his general lack of recognition during his lifetime, but at the same time he knew that history would catch up to his work. And so it has. 

I've read a great deal about Schindler and noticed a number of discrepancies that have drifted into the literature. Because of my limited memory (and my predilection for taking notes on damn near everything), I decided to create a new "blog" (a list of facts, really) dedicated to Schindler. The R.M. Schindler List will be a living site intended to act as a reference more than anything, although after I reach a research critical mass, I may blog about what I find (I have a few ideas already...). My intent is to read (and reread) everything I can get my hands on related to Schindler (turns out there's more than I thought) and pull out the relevant bits (by my eyes) to acknowledge on the site.

The site still has a long way to go (so much to still read...), but it's reached a sharable point. 



gettin' decked

In our master landscaping plan, we have space for a deck/stage in the back yard. I reached out to a couple deck builders to get this done; however, they were not amenable to building anything more than a standard suburban deck.

I didn't think we were asking for too much...

In short, we want a platform deck with Hardie-covered sides such that they evoke the fascia on the house. Nobody wanted to mess with those sides ("You don't want to do that..."). I put the project on the back burner.

Last week at Lowe's I flipped through a Black and Decker project book to see what they had about sheds (stay tuned...) and decided to look at deck instructions. Lo and behold they had plans for a platform deck at just (about) the size we want. I made a mental note about the framing, but frowned at the use of concrete deck blocks instead of piers. I then spent the afternoon doing this and that in the back yard and saw how small our deck/stage is going to be (maybe we don't really need piers...) and the fact that there's pea gravel where we're going to install it (it'll be easy to level those suckers). "Well shucks," I thought to myself. "Maybe deck blocks are the way to go!" And if I don't have to dig holes, why not do it myself!

Weekend project, I know you now.


modern maven: Otto Wagner

Part Wagner in a multi-part series!

Who: Otto Wagner 
What: Protomodernist architect
When: b. 1841 d. 1918
Where: Austria
Why: Visionary drawings of the cities of the future

Wagner was instrumental in the protohistory of Modernism, establishing some of the key concepts, creating a bridge between historicism and Modernism, and inspiring several key Modern architects, including R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra. In the mid-1890s, he was part of the Judendstil movement, the Austrian-German interpretation of Art Nouveau (Judendstil means 'young style' in German). In 1896, he published Modern Architecture, which expressed his ideas about architecture, including the honest use of new materials and new forms to reflect a changing society. He adhered to form following function and built several austere structures, mainly apartment buildings, in Vienna. although his rhetoric expressed stronger ideas than his buildings. He joined the 'Vienna Secession' in 1896. Between 1894 and 1913, he taught architecture at Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, inspiring a generation of architects, including Josef Hoffman, R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra.

Majolikahaus (1898-1899)

Kirche am Steinhof (1903-1907)

Austrian Postal Saving Bank (1904-1906)

Austrian Postal Saving Bank (1904-1906)

Austrian Postal Saving Bank (1904-1906)

Neustiftgasse (1909-1912)

Villa Wagner (1912-1913)


The Worst. Shutters. Ever.

And there they are, my friends, there they are.

I first saw them about six months ago as I drove southbound on Interstate 35 making the transition from Farm to Market 2222 to I-35's endless gridlock. I retched a wee bit at first glance, but not enough to interfere with my texting. Several times since then, I've seen 'em and made a mental note to get over there and take a photo. And this past Sunday was that day. I had my camera (and my long-term memory) as I wandered over to see and listen to Honk! in east Austin. The sun was perfectly placed; the sky was blue...

My oh my, what a sight! I've written about shutters before, but these are the Mona Lisas of misplaced window protectors (They also allow me to avoid the awkwardness of posting a neighbor's shutters and running into them at a garage sale: "Martha says you told the world you don't like our shutters.").

How awesome are these shutters?

First, they are inoperable (of course). And even if they were operable, they wouldn't even come close to protecting the vast expanse of glass between them. This is how Garcia Lopez de Cardenas felt when he first saw the gaping maw of the Grand Canyon. How could this be possible?

And then, in a harrowing yet strangely beautiful coup de grace, we notice the length of these babies. It brings tears of joy and sorrow--tears of bitter and sweet--tears of sweet and sour chicken--to my eyes as I peck this post out like a one-legged chicken on blue meth. The lengths carry these beauties from mere architectural incompetence into the vast wasteland of unintentional neoDadaism. I pray that there's video somewhere of the installation. Even better, a recording of the design discussion that led to this landmark.

Sadly, this hotel complex appears ripe for a sale and scrape. Go see it before it's too late.

Art is never forever.


spring has sprung!

It always amazes me how quickly it happens... Dull and dreary one day; sunny, alive, and green the next. The good news is that everything seems to have survived yet another wacky winter, including the Texas Red Bud we planted in the fall (in contrast to the previous two [Gawd bless their tree souls...] the landscaper insisted on planting in July-August). We've planted the garden and are fixing' to pull out the greenhouse plants today. Even the slime molds are happily sliming.

The builder and landscaper questioned the wisdom of planting a mountain laurel behind the fence just outside the office window, but it has been wonderful seeing its lavender blooms (and the cats love to 'chase' the bumblebees collecting nectar right outside). Chalk a point up to the landscape architect for this idea.

We still need planters for the back patio (what to do... what to do...) and a floating platform deck for the stage (don't get me started on trying to find a contractor that understands Modern design sensibilities ["Oh, you don't want to do that...']).

But the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and today is another great day!


more thoughts on David Gebhard's "Schindler"

I just reread David Gebhard’s 1972 tome on R.M. Schindler (titled, appropriately enough, Schindler). I read it the first time back in late 2011, commemorated here in haiku. In fact, this book was the first one I read concerning Schindler and represented my first intimate introduction to the man and his work. I recently reread it for a new project I’m working on (details soon...), but I didn’t anticipate enjoying it so much (I'm generally loath to do things twice), in large part because I now know so much more about architecture in general and Schindler in particular.

Gebhard provides a cold sober academic assessment of Schindler’s work; this is not a fanboy’s appraisal of a dearly beloved architect. In fact, his book is the first serious text on Schindler (serious = annotated), coming about a decade after Esther McCoy’s landmark book, Five California Architects.

Here are some of the nastier assessments of Schindlers work:

“His attempt to combine the expressionistic mood of Wright’s architecture with the intellectual purism of Europe continued to produce ambiguity in much of his later work. Although conflicts such as this helped him to achieve a richness of detail and form, their effect was often negative.”

“Schindler aimed for the norm, ignored the extremes, and in the process compromised the full livability of his environment.”

“...he so rarely designed stairs that are a pleasure to use...”; “...his kitchens are generally small and dingy...”; “...he produced baths that are minimal to the point of being cramped...”

But these are balanced by these statements:

“For California and really for the rest of the United States in the early twenties Schindler’s Pueblo Ribera Court...was one of the most original multiple housing designs of the period.”

“Today the Lovell beach house deserves a place with Neutra’s Lovell house (1929), Gropius’ Bauhaus at Dessau (1929-30), Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1929-30) and Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion at Barcelona (1929) as a key work of twentieth-century architecture.”

“A few perceptive clients sensed that of all the avant-garde architects practicing in Los Angeles, Schindler was the most revolutionary...”

"...for [Schindler's] contribution was two-fold. First, he transformed the symbolic image of the machine (as expressed in high art) into a former set of forms which would have the impact and vitality of low art; the language to accomplish this was to be found in the everyday building methods used around him in Southern California. Second, he sought to transform low art (the building and the way it was put together) into high art; and for him the high art aim of architecture was the creation of space."

And in a miraculous coup, Gebhard somehow engineered Henry-Russell Hitchcock to write the preface, something that amounts to an apology to Schindler and his place in architectural history. This is to Hitchcock's credit since he obviously didn’t need to make amends, especially considering that Gebhard provides ample space for not apologizing. Nonetheless, his and Philip Johnson’s oversight of Schindler’s work remains a major faux paus in their early assessments of American Modern, and Modern in general.