R.M. Schindler: Compositions and Construction
Lionel March and Judith Sheine, Editors
Academy Editions, 1993 hardcover, $80
Reviewed by Lester Paul Korzilius
Approximately 635 words
Published in Oculus, March 1994; Kebyar Network News, January/February 1996
The book "R.M. Schindler" is a useful addition to two previous books on R.M. Schindler by David Gebhard and August Sarnitz. It is useful in the sense that it gives further insight into an architect whose work is not generally well known. The editors and the publisher are to be commended on their efforts in this regard. Unfortunately, the editors did not take full advantage of the opportunity presented in a book that retails for the hefty price of $80.(Note, since this was written a paperback version of this book has been released).
The book presents a number of interesting articles on different aspects of Schindler's work, and uses the occasional photograph or plan to reinforce an argument. I believe the book falls short in that it does not adequately cover Schindler's most important projects.
The most glaring example is the omission of the Lovell Beach house in Newport Beach. There is only the odd photograph of what many consider to be Schindler's tour de force. At a minimum I would like to have seen redrawn plans, sections, elevations, and key construction details. There exist excellent period photographs of this project in the archives of some of Los Angeles' older generation of photographers, including those of the renowned Julius Shulman. Some of these photographs would have been of immeasurable value in the understanding of this important building. Additional drawings describing the key concepts of the building would have been welcome. The Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger is an ardent admirer of this building, and some of his writings might have been incorporated into this book.
Other key buildings that were only marginally covered that I feel should have received an extensive analysis include the Schindler/Chase house, the Wolfe house on Catalina Island, the Packard House3, Pueblo Ribera Courts, the Sachs apartments, the Falk apartments, and possibly the second place entry for the League of Nations competition in association with Richard Neutra (Corbusier's entry was first place).
Other buildings such as the project for a Public Library, the Buena Shore Club, a Log House, and Aline Barnsdall's house are interesting, but I don't feel warrant the attention given to them in the book.
Schindler's preeminent concern was Space. More photographs would have helped to demonstrate this concept. To make the book less expensive, a number of black and white photographs could have been used, to no detriment of the concepts involved. The computer renderings were not of good quality, and did not adequately convey the feeling of the projects. In the case of the Barnsdall house, that was not built, the editor's had no choice, but in the case of the Wolfe house there was no reason to use computer drawings, and not show photographs of this building.
Schindler was an architect who produced his best work relatively early in his career. Much of his later work lacked the intensity and clarity of concept of his early work. It would have been interesting if some intelligent insight could have been given to this. I suspect this discourse would shed some light on the difficulties of practicing architecture as an artist in a commercially oriented culture, and particularly in the superficial environment of Los Angeles. Note for example the extremely different career trajectories of Rudolph Schinder and Richard Neutra, two fellow countrymen who came to Los Angeles, via Frank Lloyd Wright at roughly the same time.
The editor's might have made better use of the Schindler archive at the University of California at Santa Barbara. These archives contain numerous correspondence between Schindler and his clients, as well as correspondence with other architects. This might have offered some useful insights into the projects, and into Schindler's philosophy.