Must-Know Modern Homes: The Lovell Beach House

The early 20th century was a time of architectural manifestos — see, by way of example, the De Stijl group’s manifesto discussed within an ideabook on a preceding Must-Know Modern Home, the Rietveld Schröder House. The manifestos tried to find appropriate architectural responses to the great changes in politics, technology and society, particularly in Europe.

Rudolph M. Schindler, born in Vienna in 1887, composed a manifesto in 1912, when he was a student at the Vienna Academy of the Sciences. Inside he contrasted historic structure’s reliance upon mass, structure and surface with what he saw as contemporary architecture’s emphasis on space as its raw material. Defining space through shape, instead of working with space as the by-product of a mass’s surface articulation, are the issue of the contemporary architect — and of Schindler after his studies.

Schindler’s doctrine of “space design” can be seen in one of the masterpieces, the Lovell Beach House on the Pacific coast south of Los Angeles. It is not as instantly attractive as his earlier Kings Road House in West Hollywood (now home to the MAK Center), but its influence on after modern structure is important and worth exploring.

Lovell Beach House at a Glance
Year constructed: 1926
Rudolph M. Schindler
Visiting info: Only rare visits scheduled
Location: Newport Beach, California

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The beach house that R.M. Schindler designed for Phillip Lovell is striking for the way it’s lifted above sidewalk level. This occurs via five concrete frames in the form of squared-off figure eights. Schindler was crucial of wood-frame construction, so at Kings Road he utilized tilt-up concrete panels, also in Newport Beach he created an impressive concrete structure which defies expectations.

Three factors drove the decision to lift up the enclosed spaces on the concrete frame: Give a rhythm into the house and its spaces, protect the house from flames (lightweight walls are suspended from the structure to maneuver independently during tremors), also provide views and solitude relative to the adjacent public beach. The final is evident in this aerial perspective; the house is sited prominently on a major thoroughfare resulting in the beach. Schindler’s inspiration came from conventional pile structures located on beaches in the region.

As an example, the cantilever faces west, with the sidewalk heading to the beach running north–south.

The bedrooms are located on the top floor. Initially they sat west-facing sleeping porches. Recall the sleeping porches of the Greene brothers’ Gamble House. In the days before air conditioning, sleeping porches were a acceptable alternative in California’s benign climate.

The sleeping porches can also be seen as an extension of the thoughts of Lovell, Schindler’s customer, who ran the Physical Culture Center and composed a “Care of the Body” column to the Los Angeles Times. Lovell advocated natural health remedies and saw the living environment as being important in health.

Even with the California beach’s positive climate, Lovell wanted the sleeping porches enclosed shortly after completion. Schindler oversaw this change, moving the French doors in the bedroom into the outer guardrail and shifting them to fit.

Yet there is something awkward about the enclosure in the cantilever, as if the windows are flimsy relative to the striking concrete frame. This along with other idiosyncrasies of Schindler’s designs were mentioned as reasons for his being left out of the exhibition The International Style in the Museum of Modern Art in 1932. This omission hurt Schindler, though less as when Lovell hired fellow Austrian and California transplant Richard Neutra to design his next job, the Health House, that did create its way to the MoMA exhibition.

Schindler and Neutra understood each other in Vienna before World War I, but upon graduation in the Vienna Academy of Arts, Schindler headed to Chicago to work in an architecture office, while Neutra remained behind. This movement was influential to Schindler, since it got him closer to Frank Lloyd Wright, whose influential portfolio of work was published in Europe while Schindler was in college. Four years later Schindler transferred to Chicago, Wright actually hired him had him manage the construction of the Hollyhock House in Hollywood while the master traveled to Japan. In 1921 Schindler set out on his own.

Wright’s influence can be seen in the glass panels inserted between the cement piers. As opposed to use big pieces of plate glass Schindler designed a pattern reminiscent of Wright’s Prairie-style abstractions. These patterns are another reason Schindler did not fit in the MoMA exhibit’s narrow perspective of contemporary design, which espoused absolutely no decoration or ornament.

Neutra emigrated to California in 1923, also working for Wright. He eventually moved to Schindler’s Kings Road house and worked with him on several projects, such as the Lovell Beach House. Neutra struck out on his own in 1930, and his architecture illustrated the gap between Schindler’s idiosyncratic regionalism along with his own European modernism; the latter has been tasked with MoMA’s definition of an International style through his articulation of space with large expanses of glass and planar surfaces.

Schindler and his doctrine of space structure, on the other hand, resulted in more complex forms found in the interplay of structure, surfaces and architectural elements. This perspective of the porch in the beach house indicates the complex intertwining of stair, ramp (in the foreground, moving in the opposite direction of the stair), living room wall and concrete structure. It’s easy to see the influence on after California architects such as Frank Gehry.

This perspective of the north side of the beach house indicates the plasticity of its architectural form. The concrete structure allowed the walls to be treated as independent surfaces (less one and the same, as in conventional structure), and Schindler exploited it by bumping out some walls, pulling others in, and adding windows as needed. Compare this facade with the side of the house facing the beach (observable as the short side in the first photograph); the elevation facing the beach includes large openings for opinions of the beach and water, while the north is mostly solid.

The home’s centre is the double-height living room and its own large windows (picture at right) looking into the south. As is evident, Schindler is not content with defining space by windows and planar walls. He layered walls, juxtaposed the concrete and timber structures, designed ladder-like patterns in the windows and comprised built in furniture.

The debt to Wright is obvious, particularly with regard to the built-ins (Schindler designed the built in furniture to the Hollyhock House), but you can observe the working out of his own fashion in matters like the shelving after the cement column — an odd detail, contemplating that the shelves are unreachable.

This floor plan indicates the first floor, which is one floor up from pavement level. One ascends either via a stair into the kitchen on the left or via a shallower stair (also referred to as a ramp) into the living area and south-facing terrace on the right side. The five rows of columns which contain the steel framing are evident, as is the cantilever of the top floor, indicated by a dashed line.

The top floor includes a corridor that overlooks the double-height living room, visible in the previous strategy as a dashed line. This drawing came after the sleeping rooms were enclosed; the bedrooms would have stopped in the columns prior to that.

The main, west-facing elevation really accentuates the design’s structural bravado. Out of the five structural frames, only the garage along with the staircase touch the floor. In this respect Lovell Beach House is possibly the first example of brutalist architecture, predating the short style style by three years. Architects of much larger and more public buildings would eventually utilize concrete structures to similar dramatic effect, yet this house was be Schindler’s last house constructed of concrete. He needed to give in to the popularity of wood-frame structure, yet he held to his doctrine of space design until his death in 1953.

Curtis, William J.R. Modern Architecture Since 1900. Prentice-Hall, third edition, 1996 (first published in 1982).Gebhard, David. Schindler. The Viking Press, 1971.
MAK Center in Schindler House.
McCoy, Esther. Five California Architects. Hennessey + Ingalls, 1987 (originally released in 1960 by Reinhold Book Corporation).Smith, Elizabeth and Darling, Michael. The Architecture of R.M. Schindler. Harry N. Abrams, 2001.
Wright, Gwendolyn. USA: Modern Architectures in History. Reaktion Books, 2008.

More: 10 Must-Know Modern Homes

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