Classic Spaces: 1962: Gunnar Birkerts: Schwartz's Residence

. Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rare views of Gunnar Birkert's lost masterpiece Schwartz's Residence, which was located in the middle of an apple-orchard in Michigan.  One of my favorite features is a simple but beautiful sunken fireplace alcove.  The furnishings were a treasure trove of modernism, including works by Paul McCobb, Poul Kjaerholm, Eero Saarinen, and Arne Jacobsen.

From an essay by Martin Schwartz:

Birkerts’ Schwartz Residence,3 built in Northville, Michigan in 1960, admits light from three sides into the living room. The three walls of glazing in this room provide the additional pleasures of a continuous visual panorama and a strong connection with the landscape. This may be considered to be a variation on the idea of the courtyard in which one feels protected by a surrounding wall while connected to the sky above, the source of light. In this house however, the enclosure and flow of open space are reversed. With a roof overhead and an open perimeter, the daylight streaming in from the sides introduces less light than would be available from the sky, but the feeling of being “inside” a defined room and protected is maintained while the connection with the adjacent landscape is strengthened.

At the Schwartz Residence, light admitted around the living room was further balanced with light drawn into the center of the house through a skylight at the central core. Light pours in at the center, just where we would expect to see the greatest solidity and the least light; it pleases us additionally because it is a
surprise. The glazed perimeter and skylighted center enhance the impression that the roof plane floats, both establishing and challenging the sense of enclosure. The skylight is directly above a white wall surface, which receives the daylight and bounces it into the living room. The narrowness of the room makes it easy to balance the illumination; nevertheless, Birkerts successfully adapted this pattern to his later, larger commissions where this technique was particularly welcome.

The home was demolished in 1986.

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