Lovell Beach House: Architectural Masterwork

During the Thanksgiving break, between visits with our families in Los Angeles, my wife and I took the opportunity to visit Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach designed by Rudolph Schindler. The Beach House, designed over the period 1922-26, is considered to be among the important contributions to the Modern Movement of architecture in the United States.

The summer residence of the successful physician and naturopath Philip Lovell and his family, the house is situated on the Balboa Peninsula on a residential cul-de-sac bounded to the northeast by W. Balboa Blvd. and to the southwest by the waves and the open beach. Erected on concrete piloti high above the mundane chatter of the maddening crowd of beach houses below, it speaks with the singular and lucid voice of elegance and clarity.

Formally, it’s street elevation composes into two lines of force consisting of the upward thrust and determined stoicism of the massive pilotis juxtaposed against the dramatic horizontal movement of the living quarters poised on their able shoulders.

This upper mass, wafer-thin in it’s relative proportions, can be seen in its composition of dark ribbon windows (“figure”) sandwiched alternating bands of white concrete (“ground”) to prefigure the sublime eloquence of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy, his “machine for living”, only conceived two years after Schindler’s masterpiece was already speaking the clarion call of the Modern Movement right here on the far west shore of North America.

In the book “Icons of Architecture: The 20th Century” (Prestel Press 1998, Sabine Thiel-Siling, Editor) states, “In this masterpiece, Schindler was able to realize his spatial concepts of architecture and living. In the beach house, Schindler also expressed his theoretical ideas on the “Care of the Body”, which he was to formulate in 1926 in six articles in the Los Angeles Times. With this new and unconventional approach, Schindler implemented his own architectural and social ideas, which may be seen as an undogmatic interpretation of the main axioms of modern architecture.”

I made my first pilgrimage to the house in 1984 or so. At that time I had only just begun my architectural career, working in an entry-level position with a Los Angeles architectural practice by day and just beginning my architectural studies by night. My co-worker Mark Burkhardt, third-generation architect from Zurich, Switzerland and I were in the habit of weekend jaunts around LA to see what wonders of architecture awaited us.

I must confess I wasn’t entirely taken by the building during that first visit. Although I was keenly aware that the house was famous by virtue of being in our architectural tour book, my inexperienced eyes just couldn’t get past the thick mass of the concrete pilotis, or the mundane presence of the immediate neighborhood.

Seasoned by few additional years of education and experience, the house obviously had very different impression on me during THIS visit. Located at 1242 West Ocean Front in Newport Beach, if you’re in the area it’s well worth a visit.

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2 thoughts on “Lovell Beach House: Architectural Masterwork

    1. santacruzarchitect Post author

      Jane: glad you enjoyed it. An interesting sideline is the intersection between the owner Lovell, architect Schindler, and Schindler’s friend, the architect Richard Neutra. THAT story will be the subject of an upcoming blog…

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