The MAK Center for Art & Architecture in late June unveiled the newest addition to the trio of Rudolph Schindler houses that the Vienna-based museum owns in LA. A second story has been added to the five-car garage at the back of the 1939 Mackey Apartments, one of Schindler’s most ingenious and playful compositions of solids and voids. The addition, designed by Michael Ferguson and Kirby Smith, of Space International Architects, is a nod to the original landmark without being a slavish work of architectural ventriloquism. The $490,000 project, located in Miracle Mile, was paid for by the Austrian government, which funds the MAK Vienna.
The upstairs is a plain rectangle cantilevered 8 1/2 feet from the face of the garages below. The 750-square-foot room has blank white walls, a light gray epoxy-coated floor, and 11-foot-high ceilings. A single wall attached to a lower projecting ceiling creates a proscenium frame within the otherwise blank box. The volume is essentially neutral, and can become just about anything, from a dining room to a gallery to a theater stage.
What makes this flexibility possible is a set of seven floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that, when moved to one side, create a 34-foot-wide opening. The doors are made of an oversized structural polycarbonate, similar to Polygal, but with the insulating property of double-paned glass. With the shades raised, and the doors closed, natural light suffuses the space. With the doors open, the room becomes a terrace.
A gap of just 12 feet separates the addition from the rear of the 1939 structure. The connection between old and new is, therefore, intimate. Yet Ferguson, who oversaw a staged, seven-year restoration of the four-plex, was careful to craft a design that neither “competes nor fits in with the Schindler.” So while the garages below are white, the exterior of the addition is black; where the upstairs is almost completely flat, the main building is a dizzying complex of interlocking blocks.
Schindler’s spirit is very much alive here, especially in the use of light to create space. In one respect, however, Space International has been more literal in its interpretation. The exterior of the addition is coated in WetSuit, a self-flashing membrane that is sprayed on and dries almost instantly. While it is typically used as below-grade waterproofing, for the Mackey garage the architects used the product much the way Schindler used composition asphalt roofing to clad portions of his famous DeKeyser residence.
Now that it’s open, the new space will allow the MAK Center to inject a series of non-residential programs even further into the skein of residential Los Angeles. In a sense, the second story advances Schindler’s view of a house as a bohemian enclave, subverting conventional domesticity and design.