Beauty of Buck House Lies in Its Realized Vision as a Statement of Modernism
The Buck House may be the most beautiful house in Los Angeles. It is not the best, the most luxurious, or the most correct house, but it is the most realized version of the house as a work of art that we have in these parts. Designed by Rudolf Schindler in 1934, it is still a statement of modernism: It converts its function and site into an abstract play of geometric planes that recompose these facts into the promise of a better world.
You can’t miss this particular house. It stands out among the Spanish-style residences, scale-less office buildings and style-less apartments. Schindler aligned the house along Genesee Avenue, which meets the broader 8th Street at an acute angle, so that the house juts forward into its lot. It moves from a low, closed corner on the east to a decomposition of forms in the higher, two-story portion to the west. All the planes step forward to meet you, leaving two vertical chimney pieces to tie the house down. In the middle, a horizontal plane that defines the central part of the house floats over a recessed door, as if the whole house is pulling itself apart to allow you entrance.
There are practical reasons for all of this compositional play. Schindler organized the main house in an “L” shape around a large garden at the rear, where it is sheltered from the rush of 8th Street. This shape is expressed in the interlocking vertical and horizontal forms of the facades. The house is essentially a set of walls that disintegrate as you move back farther into the lot, where they turn into nothing but steel and glass grids. This makes the house appear from Eighth Street as a series of veils protecting the inner sanctum. The western portion of the house, meanwhile, is an apartment on top of a three-car garage, placed so that the angle of the house leaves enough room for cars to pull up off the street. The garage starts to pull the Buck House into the realm of the two-story apartment buildings that make up much of the 1930s fabric of this part of the city.
It is a beautiful use of the site. The simple garden, sheltered by tall hedges, is the real heart of the house, and all the major spaces open onto it, so that you feel as if the structure is dissolving into nature. The solid wall to the street connects the house to the city. It gives us not just a blank wall in return for the free space within the confines of the lot, but an elegant composition of stucco forms separated by bands of glass set into gray metal mullions.
This might all sound rather dry and formal, but the excitement of the Buck House is that it shows how the gymnastics of design can make a good place. Schindler always saw his architecture as no more than a thin scaffolding thrown up in such a way that we could live in the temperate climate of Southern California. Walls and roofs drank in the confused forces and forms of the city, abstracting them into the essence of human order.
What makes this not just an idea is the sheer sculptural elegance of the Buck House. Drive or walk by, and you can see all the interlocking forms answering each other with horizontal thrusts and vertical stands, while the networks of mullions and windows both separate and connect the pieces. The building is a woven textile of white forms, shimmering in the California sun and promising us an oasis of perfect reason growing out of the tamed energies of our urban environment.