I have long had a theory that the truest
test of an architect’s talent can be found in the smallest of his commissions, rather
than the largest. Where budgetary and spatial constraints present themselves as
challenges, the architect is asked to distill his or her ideas into their
purest forms. There are few better examples of this than R.M. Schindler’s Presburger
Residence (1945-7), site of a recent SAH/SCC event.
brilliance at design and engineering has long been recognized in his numerous
works on “unbuildable” hillside lots in and around Los Angeles. The Presburgers,
however, presented their architect with a conventional unconventional
challenge: build on a small, flat infill lot in the San Fernando Valley.
Schindler balked and tried to convince the family to purchase a hillside lot
instead. The Presburgers stood firm. And Schindler, who ran in the same
progressive political circles as his clients, was moved to build a postwar home
on the existing lot.
home’s appearance is conservative from the outside—save for an expressive
modern beam detail that appears to be coming out of nowhere on the front
façade. Stepping through the front door, however, into the 1,400-square-foot
house, the visitor is transfixed by a dynamic display of space and light. The
open plan and outdoor rooms make the house feel far larger than its meager
square footage would suggest, and the clerestory windows above the datum line
bring light and shadow into the space from a variety of angles. As an infill
lot, the site afforded no views except upward—and Schindler took full advantage
the SAH/SCC program, the current owners, who have done a remarkable job of
restoration with a sensitive group of craftsmen, remarked at how they are able
to lie in bed and have a view of the stars. Schindler gave his clients the gift
of architecture—a dialogue between the person, the space, and the landscape (not
to mention, the cosmos). Unlike thousands of other San Fernando Valley families
who parked their station wagons in the driveways of their modest ranch houses
with conveniences from Kelvinators to Can-O-Lectrics, the Presburgers engaged
with their house on a daily basis in a way that naturally enhanced their
quality of life.
larger postwar designs, including the Janson Residence (1948-9) and the
Tischler Residence (1949-50), reflect his interest in creating a transparent
house on a hillside slope and a multi-functional house on a gently undulating
parcel, respectively. It is the little Presburger Residence where the ordinary
the coming year, SAH/SCC is committed to bringing you more wonders—small and
large—of architecture in Southern California.