Friday, 7 December 2012

Nature as Inspiration

Yosemite redwoods
Schindler became deeply inspired by the American wilderness after a visit to the mountains of Yosemite. The Schindler Chace house became a reflection of the experience of camping in both the literal and metaphorical sense. The features of the home are a manifestation of the ambiance of the wild, and the lifestyle one adopts in that environment.

Only two weeks after the 1921 visit to Yosemite, Schindler finalized his design for his new house in West Hollywood. (Smith, 20) In a letter to his wife's parents, Schindler described how the experience of the wilderness was captured in his future home. (Smith, 20) He wrote, "The basic idea was to give each person his own room - instead of the usual distribution- and to do most of the cooking right on the table, making it more a social 'campfire' affair, than the disagreeable burden to one member of the family." (Smith, 20) The house's design eliminated a conventional kitchen for each couple and thus eliminated a housewife's drudged routine. In exchange for a kitchen, many fireplaces were placed throughout the home. (Smith, 21) The utilities were paired with the fireplaces so that cooking and cleanup could take place in studios, quickly and easily. (Smith, 21)

Installing the redwood framing on the Clyde Chace studio
(Smith, 22)
The Schindler Chace residence was unique in the sense that it could handle crowds of varying magnitudes. During the house's lifetime, many extravagant parties were hosted. In order to accommodate up to one hundred guests, the interior partitions filled with Insulite -conceived as non-load-bearing frames - were removed. (Smith, 27) The plan of the house essentially adapted to the people inside, just as nature adapts in order to thrive. Even the parties were characteristically wild. Especially when John Bovingdon re-enacted symbolic rituals from Bali with his bare-breasted partner. (Smith, 29) The gardens on the outside further provided a backdrop for haunting dances because of the smooth transition between indoor and outdoor spaces, made possible by the warm California climate (Smith, 29)

Schindler at his campground in
Yosemite National Park
Schindler's plan was essentially based on austere abstraction. (Smith, 30)  There was no living room, dining room, or bedroom anywhere in the house. Instead, four studios were separated for each member of the household.  The four independent studios represented Schindler's interpretation of the family as a group of individuals with common goals, implying that the members were artists whose lives were an expression of creativity. (Smith, 21) Interestingly, the studios had no beds so they didn't double as a bedroom. Schindler designed what he called sleeping baskets, planes supported on what looked like spider legs on the roof of the studio space. (Smith, 30) As a whole, the house's rooms existed as voids that derived meaning based on furniture arrangement. (Smith, 30) The furniture was easily moved as different uses for rooms became more desirable. (Smith, 30) In essence, the versatility of each space to be free of a permanent program was a priority. It is a concept that was directly inspired by the adaptability of nature.

R. M. Schindler designed the house with a vivid memory of his shelter in Yosemite. (Smith, 21) He intended for the SCH to be a reflection of the same freedom and celebration of life he experienced in the wilderness - the psychology of a uninterrupted vacation where the irritations of the workday were evaded. (Smith, 21)
Right before his death, Schindler reflected on the origins of the house. He stated, "I camped under the open sky, in the redwoods, on the beach, the foothills, and the desert. I tested its adobe, its granite and its sky. And out of a carefully built up conception of how the human being could grow roots in this soil - I built my house. And unless I failed, it should be as Californian as the Parthenon is Greek and the Forum Roman." (Hines, 245)

The tent consists of three solid walls...
...with a movable partition in front.

This wall is openable to the outside... the green space extending the house. 


  1. Best house in the world--maybe a little drafty. I also blogged about Schindler's house and his stay in Yosemite at I don't know when Housekeeping Camp at Yosemite was constructed or when it will be demolished but it matches Schindler's description of the original home. The house definitely deserves its own blog.

  2. Agreed! It's certainly one of our favourites.