On Tents and CavesFrank Escher
This book is the result of research PRODUCTORA initiated as winners of the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP) for Emerging Practice at Illinois Institute of Technology.
“The first space for living was the cave. The first house was the hollow mound of earth. To build meant: to gather and layer building material [and] mass, around voids for air [and] living [and] space . …
The technique of architect and sculptor was similar. …
The architectural design concerns itself with ‘space’ as its raw material and with articulated room as its product . …
The architect has finally discovered the medium of his art: SPACE.” 
Written in Vienna in 1912, a place and time marked by some of the most radical cultural shifts of the last century, Rudolf M. Schindler’s “Moderne Architektur: ein Programm” describes the origins of architecture and offers two directives for the architecture of that moment: first, that architecture must concern itself not with the object, but with space; and second, that architecture is to be from and of the earth.
Ten years later, Schindler built his own, seminal house in Los Angeles. He had moved to America to work with Frank Lloyd Wright, and had overseen Wright’s studio during the master’s long voyages to Japan. He was in Los Angeles supervising the construction of Wright’s first and most significant commission there, the Hollyhock House, built for the oil heiress Aline Barnsdall. He had also traveled throughout the American Southwest, reporting to Richard Neutra back in Vienna that “the only buildings that testify to any true feeling of the earth from which they spring are the ancient adobe buildings” there. The house he would design for himself, constructed between February and June 1922, is a building as radical today as it was almost a century ago. “The basic idea was to give each person his own room—instead of the usual distribution,” he explained in a letter to his parents-in-law in 1921. He elaborated on this atypical arrangement in an article in the journal T-Square, published in 1932, in which he describes the house as “a cooperative dwelling for two young couples … [where] rooms for specialized purposes [have] been abandoned.” “Instead,” he continues, “each person receives a large private studio; each couple a common entrance hall and bath. Open porches on the roof are used for sleeping. An enclosed patio for each couple, with an out-of-door fireplace, serves the purposes of an ordinary living room. … One kitchen is planned for both couples.” Architecturally, Schindler combines in his house the idea of the “cave” (the concrete floors and walls on three sides of the spaces) with the idea of the “tent” (the delicate wood, glass, and canvas enclosures of the fourth walls), anticipating two distinct positions in the architecture of the coming century.
Left: The entry and living space of Geoffrey Bawa’s Polontalawa Estate Bungalow.
Right: The main roof structure is supported by boulders. Near Nikarawetiya, Sri Lanka, 1963–65.
The connection between nature and architecture was central to modernism. Two distinct strategies exist: buildings that, like those of Neutra or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, extend architectural elements out into their surrounding landscapes, ultimately controlling their sites, and buildings that draw the surrounding landscape into the architectural space.
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