Rudolph M. Schindler

Rudolph Michael Schindler
Courtesy of Architecture and Design Collection, Art Design & Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara.

Rudolph Michael Schindler was an Austrian-born American architect who practiced in Southern California during the years 1920-53.

R.M. Schindler was born in Vienna in 1887 and educated at the Bau-(Architektur) schule of the k.k. Technische Hochschule (Polytechnic Institute) in Vienna from 1906–11. Before he had finished his degree there, he enrolled in the k.k. Akademie der bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) from 1910–13, studying with Otto Wagner, whose ideas about modern architecture permeated the school. Wagner believed that modern materials and methods, not historical styles, should be the source for architectural form.

Like other young architects in Vienna, including Richard Neutra, who later joined him in Los Angeles, Schindler was also drawn to Adolf Loos and his forceful lectures and writings arguing against ornament in architecture and for an architecture of complex interior space with highly articulated sections, later codified as the raumplan.

But perhaps the biggest influence on the young architect was the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, which he saw in 1911 in the Wasmuth portfolio. There he saw an architecture of space more advanced than even that of his teachers and he went to Chicago in 1914, hoping to work for Wright.

Move to Los Angeles

In 1918, Wright finally hired Schindler to work on the Imperial Hotel, leaving him in charge of his office during his travels to Japan; Wright sent Schindler to Los Angeles in 1920 to supervise construction of his most important American commission of the time, the Hollyhock house for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall.

Schindler had always meant to return to Vienna, but World War I and the unfavorable economic conditions that followed in Europe discouraged his return. Los Angeles, on the other hand, was at the beginning of an economic and population boom that coincided with his arrival there. After a visit with his wife Pauline to Yosemite in October 1921, Schindler decided to stay in Los Angeles and build his own house and studio at Kings Road. The house was essentially finished in 1922, and Schindler lived and practiced there for the rest of his career.

Space architecture

For Schindler, theory and practice were intimately connected. He first wrote about his ideas for modern architecture while still a student in Vienna in 1912. Rejecting his Wagnerian past he declared that “The twentieth century is the first to abandon construction as a source for architectural form.” Instead, because of the advances in materials and methods, architects were now free to design space and in the future the architect would control “space, climate, light, mood.”

Schindler called his own special form of modern architecture “Space architecture,” which focused on the design of interior space. He produced a body of work, built almost entirely in Southern California, that embodies his spatial ideas. Starting with his own Kings Road house, a concrete and redwood structure which combined a site plan showing a radical integration of interior and exterior spaces with an equally radical social program of four adults living as equals, Schindler designed around 500 projects of which about 150 were built. These were largely single-family houses, although there were some apartments, small commercial buildings and a single church.

Few clients were quite as radical in their tastes as Schindler was himself, but they were largely progressive middle-class intellectuals, with more taste than money. After early experiments with concrete, including the How house (1925) and the Lovell beach house (1923–26), proved too expensive, Schindler developed ways to make inexpensive modern architecture out of cheap materials—stucco and plaster over wood frame—in what he called his “plaster skin” designs of the 1930s and early 1940s; notable examples include the Oliver (1933–34), Walker (1935) and Wilson (1935–39) houses.

He continued to experiment with materials and roof forms, using roofing as siding in the de Keyser house (1935) and trying out gable roof forms in a number of projects. After World War II, he employed his “Schindler Frame” construction which further adapted the wood frame to accommodate his ideals of interior spatial continuity, in works such as the Kallis house (1946) with its sloping roofs and walls, and in several houses in which he used translucent colored fiberglass to achieve “color atmosphere,” including the Janson (1948–49), Tischler (1949–50) and Skolnick (1950–52) houses.

Schindler’s career was cut short by his early death in 1953.

—Judith Sheine