On Schindler

MICHAEL ROTONDI / 26 FEBRUARY 2001

REVISED 28 FEBRUARY 2001 / 5 MARCH 2001


R.M. Schindler's American mentor F.L. Wright often said "when designing a building on a hillside, it should complete the line of the hill or be placed below the crest". Schindler remembered this throughout his life. The houses and apartments he designed in the foothills surrounding Hollywood were always carefully oriented for light and view and were set into the natural topography of their site, grounding them. The relationship of building and land appeared to be inevitably correct. I have always thought that the point being made by Wright and interpreted by Schindler was about this formal relationship. While living in one of Schindler's designs, I realized that Schindler's interpretation of this principle had to do primarily with the spatial relationship between the human body, moving and at rest, to other things in space. Where the buildings were placed and how spaces were configured, were carefully considered.

The body's sensuous engagement with its surroundings began within the room, unfolded beyond it continually extending the dimension and scale of the space the body occupied to the extent that the mind was engaged. It was a magical experience. It was an architectural sleight of hand.

Between 1990 and 1992, I lived in the Sach's Apartments, situated on a west-facing hillside in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles. The 10-unit complex was terraced on the hill with the building mass moving along the edges of its square site. The center was open and was filled with a terraced garden bisected by a staircase going from street to street connecting the large landings that served as front porches to the units. It was an American version of a Mediterranean hill town where private buildings form public spaces. These porches were the shared communal spaces where the residents spent time together.

The units were cleverly situated so from within they could be quite open with visual privacy from other units. We saw only treetops or the city below. I did not ever enter into anyone else's private space. I lived alone during a time of personal transition. Change and uncertainty are normally a part of the creative process at work. As conceptual propositions, they had become a real part of my life. I needed a place to retreat to, and this was it. In a way, it was my hermitage.

While living here I discovered what it meant to be in solitude, yet living within a community. At the time I found great comfort and peace of mind living this way.

I looked forward to spending time alone there. It was a place where experiences of the moment triggered my memory of events from long ago. How was this possible?Perhaps this quiet space silenced my mind enough to allow the deep cellular memory within me to unfold.

My first experience of this was probably during the first 3 months of my life, which I spent in an incubator. I was born prematurely. My transparent shelter made me an observer and participant in my new world. This awareness informed 2 monastery projects we worked on a few years later.

The apartment was a small 5 room flat of 600 S.F. Simply detailed, beautifully proportioned and filled with balanced light.

The two main rooms of equal size and rectangular in shape were adjacent to each other. Their end wall faced to the west and were entirely glass. The refracted orange sunlight at dusk filled both rooms almost everyday. The hillside position provided a long view over the city below to the horizon. Whenever I was deep in the space, I felt like I was in a cave nesting and when I was at the front edge of the glass wall, I was flying, in the middle zone, in between. Both places and sensations was where I would work, recording thoughts and images. The zone in- between is what the Lakota Sioux call the Horizon:

The line of creation is in between one place and another one thing and another one event and another where there is stillness and silence where new life emerges this is the zone where you cry for a vision

I spent many hours sitting at a low table reading, writing, and drawing. All of this work was preceded by sitting in silence doing and thinking nothing, just being in the space, and catching the light. There were times that the floor, walls and ceiling planes felt like a third skin, protecting me by metabolizing the streaming information moving into and out of my body.

Who we are, how we see the world and what we know are interdependent.

J. Krishnamurti described the process, as the observer is the observed. Physicists called this the uncertainty principle. As children, we are filled with wonder about all of life's mysteries and are enchanted by seeing aspects of the world around us for the first time.

Our innocence is our greatest asset because it keeps us open to a way of seeing, the almost infinite possibilities in every moment, with limited prior experience or knowledge to mediate or even pre-edit new experiences we can get closer seeing things as they truly are. We know what things are before we know what they truly mean. Whether we are moving or pausing, we are learning about the physical world and in turn ourselves. When we learn to walk, we experience balance and learn about gravity. When we see, we experience color and form and learn about light. Everything our body senses is stored in deep cellular memory. This becomes our own natural intelligence, which we eventually define as intuition.

The body language of Schindler's architecture was most likely that of Schindler himself. Who he was and what he made were one and the same.

I believe that while in his spaces, one's intuitive sense is heightened to the extent his was operating when he was designing the space.

The sensuous experience precedes the definition and meaning of the experiences. The body apprehends the world and the mind deciphers it. This understanding of the body-mind sequencing was something Schindler knew intuitively; after all he was Viennese.