The Lovell Beach House was a product of the radical ideas of both the architect and client. Rudolph Schindler, born in Vienna in 1887, came to the United States in 1914, after studying with Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos in Vienna. He worked for Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and Taliesin starting in 1918, and Wright sent him to Southern California in December 1920 to work on the design of his Hollyhock House on Olive Hill in Los Angeles, built for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall.
Lovell Beach House was designed for a client who was part of a circle expounding and practicing progressive ideas and ideals on health, education, and culture in Southern California. Dr. Philip Lovell was a naturopath, with a clinic promoting healthy physical living and a column, “Care of the Body,” in the Los Angeles Times that espoused his ideas. Schindler and Lovell were connected through a progressive group centered on Barnsdall. Lovell viewed his life as a public advertisement for his ideas and work and, to design his vacation house, found an architect whose vision was as radical as his own.
The site for the house was a small corner lot on a boardwalk that ran along the beachfront on the Balboa Peninsula in the seaside city of Newport Beach in Orange County. The house is sited in the northwest corner of the lot, covering about half of the site area, with the main floor of the house elevated a story above the street and beach level. While Schindler generally sited his houses to define a privatized outdoor space, in this case, with the oceanfront site he created an open space in front of the house facing the beach. The ground floor contains a garage opening to the alley in the back, and what Schindler called a playground—a sand area under the living space that extends out towards the beach. Architect Richard Neutra designed the landscape plan for the house. Schindler and Neutra had known each other while in school in Vienna and Neutra’s family had joined the Schindler family at their house and studio at Kings Road in Southern California early in 1925; Schindler gave the landscape design of several of his projects in the next few years to Neutra, to help his practice get started in America.
The main living space faces the ocean, with the kitchen at the rear, and bedrooms on the top floor, reached by a balcony overlooking the main space. Schindler’s design included both built-in and freestanding furniture, with a large, multifunctioning piece dividing the large living-dining volume. A roof terrace contains a screened area for sunbathing. Two stairs accessed from the main entrance on the west side of the house slice through the exposed concrete frames supporting the structure; the larger one leads towards the ocean and the living space, while the smaller one leads towards the back of the house, up to the kitchen, and then to the bedroom level. Originally, the bedrooms were conceived as dressing areas, with beds located outside on sleeping porches, but not long after the house was built, despite Lovell’s belief in the virtues of sleeping outside, the Lovells requested that the sleeping porches be enclosed due to the evening fog. Schindler moved the windows of the dressing areas out to enclose the sleeping porches.
The house exhibits one of Schindler’s experimental uses of reinforced concrete, in which he tried out new methods of construction aimed at minimizing costs. In the Lovell Beach House, he designed five parallel concrete frames, poured upright, to support the structure. To save labor and material costs, the formwork used for the first frame was re-used for each of the other four. Wood joists run perpendicular to the frames. The very light, two-inch thick walls are constructed of metal lath covered in plaster and are hung from the concrete frames, with the edge of the living room balcony hung by steel rods attached to the frame above; windows are also hung from the concrete frame.
Schindler wrote that the frames were inspired by the pile structures seen at beaches. However, rather than simple, neutral columns, Schindler’s frames are designed to coincide with the spatial scheme for the house. The concrete frames form the double-height living space and have a smaller bay that is divided horizontally to support the floor of the sleeping spaces. The complex shape is echoed in the design of the windows, which are also not neutral rectangles of glass; bays of larger, taller windows are surrounded by smaller bays of shorter windows. While this house contains many of the features associated with what became known as the International Style, including spaces raised on exposed concrete supports, curtain wall windows, and a flat roof with a terrace, it also reveals how different Schindler’s ideas about architecture were from those of, for example, Le Corbusier and Neutra. In Schindler’s approach to what he called his “space” architecture, structure was subservient to space; in the Lovell Beach House the concrete frames do not stand in contrast to the spaces they enclose, but instead adjust their shape to support them. While still a student in Vienna, Schindler wrote a manifesto in which he stated that due to advances in materials like reinforced concrete and steel, which could support any shapes imaginable, the architect was now freed to design using “space, climate, light, and mood.” The Lovell Beach House displays its spatial scheme in its exposed structure, which allows for maximum light to fill the house and takes advantage of ocean views.
Schindler designed several projects for the Lovell family, but the commission for their town house, the Lovell Health House in Los Angeles, eventually went to Neutra. The Beach House remains a private residence owned by the Lovell family.
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