PRINT May 2001

Roy McMakin

MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH A SCHINDLER structure was as a student in La Jolla, California, in the late ’70s. Exploring the coastal red estate of my new community, I stopped my red VW Bug and got out to stare at something completely bewildering. The structure in front of me appeared at once ancient and of the future. What was this thing (house? building? stage set? outdated transfer station?) doing in a jumble of white clapboard beach cottages and ’60s lanai apartments? It seemed to be simultaneously rising from and dissolving back into the sandy beach cliffs down the block.

Within days I bought my first Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles and Southern California. It became my constant driving buddy. I learned that what I had bumped into was Pueblo Ribera, Schindler’s mid-’20s foray in concrete and his famous experiment in inside/outside oceanfront living. I also learned that certain aspects of the experiment—the part about getting the right sand mixed in the concrete so it would remain integral—had been a failure; the building was literally decomposing. But what remained of Schindler’s expressive, earthy interrogation of the structure of domestic life had, sixty years later, been partially responsible for opening up my own journey into similar stuff.

Still, I need to come clean on something. I feel as if I’m an interloper in these pages. You see, the path Pueblo Ribera sent me down soon led to Irving Gill, a Southern California architect of the generation previous to Schindler’s whose career was tanking as Schindler’s was getting going. I became fiercely loyal to my new mentor. Do you know how hard it was to stand in the Schindler house on Kings Road without being slightly distracted by the jealous knowledge that this building had survived while Gill’s Dodge House across the street had been bulldozed in the early ’70s? For a while in the ’80s it was Schindler this and Schindler that. “But what about Gill!” I wanted to scream. “Sure, it’s great, the intuitively expressive window and the uncomfortable built-in bench with its quirky angle and the inventive but dysfunctional kitchen, but have you studied the roominess of the living room in Gill’s Morgan House?”

Perhaps it is just chance that one had lasted and the other lost, and of course in Los Angeles, a city where precious few bits of a magnificently optimistic past survive, I hugged the giant timber bamboo in the front yard of the Schindler house every chance I had. And now that I’ve matured some and am living 1,200 miles away I feel honestly happy there’s a big fancy Schindler museum show going on. (Okay—now when’s the Gill retrospective?). I’ve come to realize that in many ways the dialogue between the visually expressive and inventive side of architecture, with its counterpoint in explorations of meaning, memory, and functionality, is perhaps just getting going. Is architecture a thing that frames space and experience; or is it space and experience that frame a thing? I think seeing the boldness of Schindler allowed me to feel the quiet of Gill. I grew up visually around these two masters and am watching now as a piece of their legacy plays out in my own life’s work.

Seattle-based Roy McMakin’s artful furniture was recently featured in “Design Culture Now” at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and in solo shows at LA’s Marc Foxx gallery and at Feature, Inc., in New York. Among his commissions is the design of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s administrative offices.