Schindler House100 years in the Making
The Schindler House would thrive as a modern dwelling, brought to life by thinkers, makers and other lively guests. Salons, lectures, performances, and dinner parties would be their medium to daydream, create, and protest
At 835 North Kings Road a breezy fence of bamboo pushes against the sidewalk and shoots upward some 6m in front of a singular work of Southern Californian modernism. From this planted perimeter it’s easy to find a leafy aperture and gaze onto the single-story landmark, recognisable by its simplified, stucco exterior, redwood detailing and thin, evenly spaced vertical window zips.
I’ve been fortunate to make repeat visits to this West Hollywood architectural enclave in recent weeks thanks to its grand centennial exhibition, Schindler House: 100 Years in the Making. Running for the duration of summer, it’s a full meal of a show, intimate, layered, complicated, and alive.
Taking those first steps in, I think about the relationship between architecture and time travel. That tiny, darkened vestibule that collects arriving visitors feels like an appropriate chamber to quietly nudge a body back one hundred years. Once inside, moving through this space can be a seductive and cinematic exploration, filled with small dramas best experienced in a slow process of revealing.
Since the 1990s, when the MAK Center for Art & Architecture became an institutional steward, the Schindler House has functioned as a public-facing exhibition venue. Even so, its architectural interior unapologetically persists as a main character and defiant framer for the installations, artworks, and other house guests that are simply passing through. A tightly flowing, small-scaled layout includes repeating uses of materials and forms, which create a rhythm that simultaneously grounds and disorients. Bathrooms, fireplaces, and patio gardens come in pairs, the result of this house’s original purpose of communal living between two couples, architect Rudolf Schindler, his wife Pauline, and their friends Clyde and Marian Chace.
Destabilising for some, entrancing for others, this house exudes a quiet intimacy, supercharged with unfurnished rooms. Slab-tilt concrete walls, a technological innovation at the time of construction, have weathered to sumptuous effect; low ceilings in redwood have been wire brushed to enhance their grain; the tiny bathrooms with built-in bathtubs and countertops are as dark and still as monks’ quarters and feature open, industrial plumbing that glimmers in the sun that streams through elegant yet modest skylights; generously-sized sliding doors that nod to Japanese screens are pushed open, inviting that Southern Californian glow; fireplaces are crowned in sheet copper that has matured like an ancestral ferment. These details amass to create stunning interior vistas with an energy more evocative of a monastic mountain retreat than an exhibition venue. But then I remember that in its earlier chapters, this was a house for radical thought. Every now and then, a piece of its domestic past slips into frame. Schindler’s boxy furniture pieces for instance, most famously his sling chair with low swooping seat made of natural canvas, were designed expressly for this place, as moveable extensions of the architecture itself.
Completed in 1922 by Viennese-born architect Rudolf Schindler, this house was always intended for a life of bold imaginings in design and social choreographies. One in which a spartan and economic use of materials, a spirited insistence on the flexible potential of space, and an ardent belief that the outdoor should converse with the indoor and vice versa, would lay an unshakable foundation for decades to come. Such avant-garde visions weren’t solely defined by architectural form and function either. Under Pauline’s direction, the Schindler House would thrive as a modern dwelling, brought to life by thinkers, makers and other lively guests. Salons, lectures, performances, and dinner parties would be their medium to daydream, create, and protest.
The dust of this domestic past has settled along with its nuances and winding narratives. For better or worse, it’s never been easier for visitors to take meaning from this place on strictly visual terms akin to a photographic flattening, which compresses time and character to omit the messier details. Providing an alternative to such opportunities for entry and experience, the MAK Center has embraced the centennial as a gesture to monumentally reframe and reimagine.
Less an exhibition, more a microcosm, Schindler House: 100 Years in the Making unfurls with complex, non-linear storytelling while never abandoning accessibility. If it were a recipe, its list of ingredients would overwhelm the would-be cook: there are commissioned artworks, failed proposals, historic photographs, site-specific installations, archive materials, a rotating exhibition vitrine, asynchronous audio tours, dinner parties, and a marathon of public programming which includes lectures and performances. A profound celebratory gesture that often takes a revisionist look at the integral themes, and their issues, that defined this place’s story and impact. It’s a lot and it asks a lot, but how are we to reflect on this building’s history without a full awareness that it is thick with complexities? This exhibition will take time, but for those willing to commit, they’ll be beautifully equipped to travel back as a means to move forward.
‘Schindler House: 100 Years in the Making’ runs until Sunday 25th September, 2022.
- words: Erik Benjamins
- photos: Rich Stapleton