In Dialogue: Art—Architecture / Sandra Peters—Rudolph Schindler

Sandra Peters

My preoccupation with Rudolph Schindler began in 2009 with the work Flux Balance / Rotating Wings (2010), which refers to the architect’s residence, located at 835 North Kings Road in West Hollywood, in a slide show (two projections with phased cross-fades). This work was followed by two further slide shows: Within : Without (2011), which documents the How House, located at 2422 Silver Ridge Avenue in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, and Ahoy (2013), which pictures the Lovell Beach House at 1242 West Oceanfront, Newport Beach, in Orange County. While thematically interrelated, the three slide shows can be projected independently. The three houses were built in rapid succession after Schindler left the architectural office of Frank Lloyd Wright in 1921 and opened his own practice in Los Angeles. His residence on North Kings Road was finished in 1921. The How House was built in 1925, and the Lovell Beach House in 1926. In 1912, when he was still in Vienna, Schindler wrote his manifesto on “space architecture.” Space, he noted, is the new material of architects.

In these three residences, Schindler experimented with concrete as a building material, and was able to realize his vision of a spatial architecture with far greater freedom than would have been possible without it. This is true in particular of the Lovell Beach House. Here, the living space rests on five parallel concrete supports. Structural and architectonic decisions—the interrelationship of interior and exterior, between the architecture and its surroundings, between transparency and opacity, etc.—emphasize the properties of the building material and Schindler’s understanding of space as a material.


In autumn of 2011, I developed the floor piece Bilateral—Diagonal for the yoga and exhibition space Y8 in Hamburg. I had just returned from several months in Los Angeles, where I had spent a considerable period photographing the How House. Schindler built the house on a commission from James Eads How. The rocky parcel is entered from the street almost at ground level but falls off into the canyon behind. Schindler adopted the How House to its site. The plan is based on two axes, one of which lies diagonally in relation to the long side of the ground-level surface of the parcel; the other axis intersects the first at a 90-degree angle. The living room is square in plan and is set at the intersection of the two axes. During my work on the architectural structure of the house, I examined the original plans in the Schindler Archive at the University of California, Santa Barbara. According to Esther McCoy, who worked for Schindler as a drafter in 1944–47, he often developed his house designs in relation to the construction of roof and ceiling structures. Apparently, this was also the case for the structure of the How House.

When I was examining and documenting the How House, its square roof and ceiling construction struck me as being geometric in structure. Later, after I had studied the plans and again had the opportunity to examine the house from the inside, I became aware that the main axes along which one traversed the rooms were the diagonal ones. The individual rooms do not make the impression of being closed boxes, but instead seem to flow into one another, to widen out and narrow again, and at the same time to effect transitions to adjacent rooms. I believe that Schindler used diagonal axes in his architecture in order to insist on his ideas of spatial architecture and of space as material.

To begin with, the square roof and ceiling structure of the How House became my point of departure for the floor piece Bilateral—Diagonal. A square, which serves as the basic form, is subdivided by an internal structure composed of parallel struts set at right angles to one another. Afterward, I would use the same structure for the lateral surfaces of Interface No. 1 (2012). In one corner, two small squares are set one above the other. Placed next to them on the long side of the two squares is a rectangle, which forms a larger square in conjunction with the small squares. Now, a second rectangle having the same dimensions can be set across one of the two sides containing a small square and the short side of the rectangle. The result is a structure of dislocation, which can be continued until the entire square surface is filled with rectangles of increasing lengths. The last rectangular surface is the only one to extend the full length of the basic square form. Each of the other rectangles appears twice in the sequence, which forms a diagonal progression that lies not exactly on the diagonal axis of the basic square, but is instead—and although in direct relation to this axis—displaced to one of its two sides.

The yoga and exhibition room of Y8 in Hamburg is located in the attic level of an old building and outfitted entirely in white. Normally found on the floor is a grid composed of black tape, which delimits an area of eight fields by eight. It extends across the entire usable surface and alludes to the philosophy of Sivananda yoga. When Marc Glöde, curator of the exhibition series (Re) Locating the Self, invited me to participate, he requested that I develop a piece related to the exhibition space. I decided to incorporate the grid toward which yoga practice is oriented at Y8. Instead of black, I had the orthogonal field outlined on the floor in gray and then installed the basic bilateral-diagonal structure on top of it using red tape. This superimposition undermined the dominance of the orthogonal grid. The diagonal axis of the red grid was clearly recognizable and offered visitors an unfamiliar spatial orientation. My intervention avoided interfering with the everyday routine of yoga instruction. It was rather a gesture, which invited visitors to engage in a different mode of self- and spatial experience.

Bilateral—Diagonal took the form of a large floor drawing. In the course of the piece’s conceptual development, in order to visualize the bilateral structure I assembled and painted white an object consisting of 2 x 2 cm wooden slats and having the dimensions 100 x 100 cm. I positioned this object on a wall of the exhibition space. The object seemed to sink into the wall. The large-format floor drawing corresponds to the rather small wall-hung sculpture, evoking a chiasmus in relation to familiar relationships.

Interface No. 1

Emerging from the wall object was the idea of a cube with the bilateral structure on all its faces. The spatial impact of the bilateral strut structure—which I had tested out in the medium of the floor drawing and wall relief in the exhibition at Y8, and which I had previously observed in the ceiling construction of Schindler’s How House—was now realized in three dimensions in the form of the cube and at the same time detached from the architectural surface. As a work of art, Interface No. 1 is more independent from the architecture than are its predecessors, while at the same time relating more clearly to Schindler’s idea of space as material. the work becomes an interface, which shapes the affective and intellectual attitude of the beholder toward himself or herself, the architecture, and the surrounding space. As one circumambulates the cube, its structural superimpositions shift view. When one exceeds a certain distance from the work, the experienced complexity of these structural superimpositions is intensified. As one approaches the cube, the space inside it becomes legible. This interior space cannot be entered but is nonetheless visually accessible. Since this space contains no struts, it appears to be a cubic volume. The appearance of this volume, however, is not exclusively mathematical but is instead conditioned by its relationship to the material concreteness of the struts and the sculpture’s position on the floor—as an airspace occupying the interior of the cube. The fact that the space cannot be entered is suggestive of ideas of “privacy” (in the literal sense of the Latin privatio: “to be deprived of”). But here, privacy does not stand in contrast to publicness; instead, interior space stands in a dynamic equilibrium with external space. Although the cube is undeniably an object, this object status is repeatedly dissolved via the perceptions of the beholder by virtue of the intricate structure of the interspaces and their multiple superimpositions.

The bilateral-diagonal structure can be applied to each face of the cube in eight ways—four rotations and their four mirror images.

When one looks at and through a cube whose faces are made up of copies of the bilateral-diagonal structure, the superimposition of opposite faces yields configurations that depend in part on the sculptural object and in part on the beholder’s distance from it, the lighting conditions, and the optical focus. In theory, there are sixty-four possible superimpositions, but one can identify four characteristic configurations that recur when one starts with identical opposite faces and then repeatedly rotates one of them by 90 degrees.

The title Interface can be related in equal measure to the relationship of art to architecture, to the relationship of work to beholder, and to the structural self-reference of the bilateral-diagonal configuration and its cubic arrangements.

Homage to Rudolph Schindler / Homage to Sol LeWitt

Interface No. 1 takes up Sol LeWitt’s idea of the Open Modular Cubes (1966), but at the same time is oriented toward the structure devised by Rudolph Schindler for the ceiling of the How House. This endows the work with a peculiarly hybrid character. It integrates two homages and realizes each of these through the other. As a consequence, it is shaped as an “interface” of homages and of references, which may be opened up through them. In his early years, LeWitt worked for the architect I. M. Pei, and in 1966, he authored an article about the New York high-rise office buildings referred to as ziggurats. Nonetheless, he distinguished clearly between art and architecture. One might speculate about whether and in what manner his artwork may have been influenced by his work for Pei and by the circumstance that LeWitt produced his art in New York City. I asked myself whether his concept of using geometric forms as the grammar for logical statements manifested in serial and modular structures might be compatible with Schindler’s concept of an architecture that treats space as a material. Despite all the affinities that can be identified between LeWitt’s modular ideas and the ceiling construction of the How House, I was unable to locate a structure in LeWitt’s oeuvre that could be compared directly to Schindler’s bilateral-diagonal structure. LeWitt worked with composite and compound structures, which he developed on the basis of modular units. One such unit is the frame shape of the cube. Of course, this shape can be fragmented or reduced, as in the Incomplete Open Cubes (1973–74), but it was never used by LeWitt in order to effectuate another, correlated structural idea within itself. Interface No. 1, on the other hand, is based on precisely this idea. Of course, Schindler’s bilateral-diagonal structure can be adapted without difficulty to the cubic frame structure used by LeWitt, but the former at the same time refers beyond itself because it suggests an extensible and in principle interminable constructive process, while the cubic frame structure simply manifest its internal insularity. What interests me is the reflexive tension between construction as process and construction as product that emerges by virtue of this contrast.

Working Ideas based on Interface No. 1

Alongside the idea of exhibiting a single cube, I worked on the piece SIX (2012), which involves six cubes that can be exhibited as a group, either in a room or outdoors. Each cube is distinguished from the others by virtue of the arrangement of the bilateral-diagonal structure on its six sides. The cubes are designed to be displayed in two staggered rows of three cubes each, with each cube shifted at an angle of 45 degrees in relation to the axis of its respective row. The viewer may circumnavigate each cube, generating a variety of perspectives. The cubes can be viewed at a distance as a group, but it is equally possible to walk within the configuration of individual hexahedra. In order to investigate various permutations, I executed a model. With the help of this model, I tested out the permutational possibilities for arranging the bilateral diagonal on the individual cubes, as well as their configuration in space.

At the same time, I began a series of drawings that depicted the arraying and folding out of the various cubes. Here, I treat the sides of the cubes separately, cutting out the individual sides in order to preserve the bilateral-diagonal structure as a perforated surface, laying out the surfaces in relation to one another in such a way that the progression of the diagonals and their dynamism becomes legible. The drawings are executed in a neutral medium-gray. Additional ideas for drawings and series of drawings deal with the possible superimpositions of the perforated planes.

PER/TRANS: Performing the Cube, Transforming the Cube. Works by Sandra Peters, 1998–2017

Vienna: VfmK Verlag für moderne Kunst


pp. 150–55