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Art & Architecture

MAK Center has designs on new neighbor

The group is wary of a condo complex to be built next-door to its home in the Schindler House. So it has put out a call for better ideas.

May 09, 2003|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

On Kings Road in West Hollywood, a proposed new condominium complex has strained neighbor relations across a bamboo hedge -- a commonplace scenario across the country. But in this case, the neighbor is a historic landmark, the Schindler House, and its occupants are using the "weapons" they have -- alternative ideas -- to fight the developer's plans.

The developer, Kings Road Gardens, plans to erect a condominium complex just south of the Schindler House, a move that officials at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which occupies the historic property, say would dwarf the seminal Modernist building. In response, the center, which hosts exhibits and lectures at the house, has invited a group of architects, designers and artists to develop other proposals for the prop- erty.

Although the alternative ideas may never have an effect beyond the bamboo hedge, MAK Center director Kimberli Meyer wants to promote a public discussion about the project. "If you don't have the money," Meyer said, "maybe you can scream and yell, and put a little extra pressure [on the developer] to do an even better job."

With an existing condo complex to the north, the proposed project would create "a canyon effect," destroying the intended spirit of the house, she said. "It's a little too close for comfort."

Austrian-born experimental architect Rudolf M. Schindler built the Kings Road house in 1922, using concrete, redwood, glass and canvas. With its open floor plan, flat roof and sliding doors, it challenged the traditional distinction between indoor and outdoor space, and the design became a model for later California-style architecture.

The house was intended as both a studio and home, and Schindler -- a collaborator of Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra -- worked and lived in the house until his death in 1953.

The developers say that they recognize the significance of the Schindler House and have tried to accommodate concerns but that the objections are "abstract" and "theoretical." "We're a little disappointed," said Richard Loring, a managing member of Kings Road Gardens. "We're being portrayed as threatening the Schindler House, but it's the opposite. Whatever we do is respectful."

To minimize the impact on the Schindler property, Loring said, the complex will consist of 18 units -- five fewer than the 23 units allowed by the city. Architect Lorcan O'Herlihy said the side of the complex bordering the Schindler property will be two stories tall, as opposed to the four allowed by the city. He added that to invite alternative plans for the property was unusual. "Intellectually, they try to own a property someone else owns."

MAK Center officials say they invited O'Herlihy to participate with an alternative vision for the property, but he declined.

Of the alternative ideas, 10 "favorites" will be picked by a jury whose members include, among others, Frank Gehry and Richard Koshalek, director of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The designs will be displayed at the Schindler House in the fall.

West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang said he has yet to see the developer's plans but is worried about the demolition of the single-family home on the disputed property to make way for "another big box of condos," which already dominate the neighborhood.

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