A banner hanging Wednesday night across the entrance to the Schindler House in West Hollywood declared, in big red letters, “Architectural Resistance.” In a courtyard beyond it, about 150 people sipped wine and listened as a developer wrangled with three architects and the executive director of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which operates the modernist landmark.
The occasion for resistance? Plans by the developer, Richard Loring, for a condominium complex on the other side of a bamboo hedge south of the house. Those plans prompted the MAK center to create a “non-competition competition” and invite architects to propose alternatives for the property. A jury that included, among others, Frank Gehry and Richard Koshalek, director of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, picked three favorites. Drawings of all the submissions will be on display at the Schindler House, on Kings Road, until Aug. 31.
None of the alternative proposals is likely to be built. But, MAK officials said, the idea was to promote a public debate about architecture and social values -- and listeners got a spirited one Wednesday.
Around a table were Loring; French architect Odile Decq, whose proposal was among those picked by the jury; fellow architects Eric Owen Moss and Carl Pruscha; and Peter Noever of the MAK.
As the discussion progressed, the central issue became one of realism versus idealism. But the idealists -- outnumbering the realist 4 to 1 -- claimed realism too.
“What we’re doing is not politically correct,” Noever said.
Loring appeared frustrated. He and the architect on the project, Lorcan O’Herlihy, have tried to minimize its impact on the Schindler House by planning fewer units, 18 instead of 23, and designing the side of the complex bordering the Schindler property to be two stories tall as opposed to the four allowed by the city, he said.
But that didn’t appease the architects. They wanted to talk about the Schindler spirit -- how we live and the possibility of radical alternatives.
(“Vive la resistance!” someone shouted.)
Austrian-born experimental architect Rudolf M. Schindler built the Kings Road house in 1922, using concrete, redwood, glass and canvas. With its open floor plan, flat roof and sliding doors, it challenged traditional distinctions between indoor and outdoor space, and the design became a model for later California-style architecture.
The house was intended as both studio and home. Schindler, who collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra, worked and lived in it until his death in 1953, entertaining artists and writers including Edward Weston, Theodore Dreiser and John Cage.
Among the competition entrants were prominent architects such as Zaha Hadid (who proposed a 21-story tower) and Peter Eisenman (who proposed building partly underground).
“It’s not realistic,” Loring said of the alternative ideas.
“We’re not learning the lesson of Schindler but the lesson of fitting in,” Moss said.
“To build a two-story white wall would be better,” Pruscha said. “Trying to be nice, it’s the worst thing you can do.”