PRINT May 2001

Michael Maltzan

AFTER SEARCHING UP AND DOWN Micheltorena Street, one finally comes across the Oliver House. Jammed into a typical LA hodgepodge of misplaced historical styles and partially hidden behind a continuous suburban topiary that weaves the adjacent houses together in a loose line, there is Schindler. Most of his work lives this way, packed in among all the other workaday worlds. You happen upon it, and it seems all the more extraordinary because of that.

Up from the street, through the house, and out to the back—the entire procession is less than 150 feet. When you arrive at the rear of the space, with Silver Lake in front of you, the house becomes almost completely transparent under what you now realize is a pitched roof.

There are various stories as to why Schindler chose a form so unlikely and conventional. Whatever his motivation, the effect is astonishing. It feels like Schindler is consciously trying to make manifest the complex psychological forces that continue to pull Los Angeles in opposite directions. It is as if, at the back of the house, a city, continually unreconciled to its newness, is looking east toward accepted typologies, while the front facade speaks of radical formal freedom and faces the promise and the modernism of the west. It suggests a belief in a kind of complex democratic landscape that accommodates anything and everything in the same, equal manner.

As is often the case with Schindler, though, the real invention is what results from the “in-between.” The form of the inside space created by the fractured planes of the hipped roof, the explosive transparency of the glass walls, and the solidity of the carved front facade is so dynamic and allusive that the house transcends descriptive concision. It also seems genetically averse to being captured by photography. You are forced to blandly stylize the image or focus on out-of-context details that rob the house of its real sense of life. Schindler’s work was made for the video camera.

He seemed to want his facades to allude to movement, but really he wanted the “spaces” to move; finally you move, through the pure pleasure of participating as strings of continuously unfolding compositions emerge, collapse, and emerge again. It was Schindler’s conviction that modernism was about space rather than materials and “style.” This separated him from others of his time. It accounts for his work’s resistance to easy consumption; it caused him to be marginalized, and ultimately, I think, to be set free.

In the Oliver House you sense the full freedom of modernism to realize its potential precisely at the point where it agrees to take on the messy reality of everything around it. Schindler’s work proposes complexity as a mode of operating. Throwing himself willingly between the rational and irrational, he can be seen as setting the real precedent for the last twenty years of Los Angeles architecture.

I have always preferred visiting the Oliver House at twilight, just as the form of the house begins trading its solidity for lightness. It’s at those moments when Los Angeles seems to almost shimmer with possibility. It’s the reason I, like many others, moved here.

Erstwhile Gehry associate Michael Maltzan established his own firm in 1995 and has since designed such projects as the Getty Information Institute’s Digital Laboratory and the Hergott-Shepard residence (featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1999 exhibition “Un-Private House”). He is currently at work on the UCLA Hammer Museum’s expansion and on MoMA’s temporary quarters in Long Island City.