The Schweikher House

By Will Bruder

The Schweikher home and stu­dio (built in 1937–38) is a pre­scient work by a young archi­tect who was just find­ing his voice. The result: he cre­ated a sophis­ti­cat­edly organic inte­gra­tion of east­ern and west­ern cul­tural sensibilities.

Located on a farm field on the rural edge of Chicago’s urban energy, the house staked its own dis­tinc­tive posi­tion in the world of Prairie School evo­lu­tion, inter­na­tional mod­ernism, and Wright’s yet-to-be-defined/built Uson­ian invention.

Ready to step out from the world of beaux-arts style of Yale, the Matcham Trav­el­ing Fel­low­ship expe­ri­ences of 1929–30 and the men­tor­ship of David Adler’s mas­ter­ful neo styles, the Schaum­burg exper­i­ment was con­ceived at sea as Paul and his wife, Dorothy, returned from their first visit to Japan in 1937.

The actual site for the house is on the edge of a farm in what was then the town of Roselle (later to become part of Schaum­burg). The land was acquired prior to the trip as part of the architect’s fees for his work in trans­form­ing a large barn on the nearby Kern farm­stead into a res­i­dence for M.L.D and M.A. Kern in the mid-1930’s. Schweikher was intrigued by the poten­tial of rural liv­ing on a site endowed with a gen­er­ous hori­zon and gen­tle creek yet close enough to com­muter rail ser­vice to bustling Chicago.

On his trip to Japan, he was exposed first hand to tra­di­tion wood houses. The design for their own res­i­dence was dri­ven by Schweikher’s unique sense of scale and pro­por­tion, struc­tural prag­ma­tism, and pas­sion for detail. Inspired more by the dynamic dia­grams of Mies’ unbuilt brick houses than Wright’s slav­ish respect for the mod­u­lar grid of his evolv­ing Uson­ian think­ing, the Schweikher house is unique for its time—mid-century Mod­ern before such a term existed.

With the acreage of the site set­ting adja­cent to the east of Meacham Road, Schwiekher’s basic lay­out strat­egy is a ‘T’-shaped plan placed at the ter­mi­nus of long dri­ve­way per­pen­dic­u­lar to the road, run­ning to the north­west cor­ner of the prop­erty. The house is anchored to the land by three sim­ple brick wall planes and the mas­sive brick chim­ney; ele­ments of two fire­places and the stack of the base­ment boiler. It seems to float on a plinth of brick pavers that seam­lessly extend out­side in, and inside out.

Mov­ing along the stem of the ‘T’ between car­port and house, one is drawn to the cov­ered void of an open east fac­ing breeze­way por­tal. Brick and hor­i­zon­tal red­wood board and bat­ten walls align the south­ern edge of this for­mal pro­ces­sional. The entry is pro­nounced by glazed dou­ble doors and a gen­er­ous side­light that offer the guest/visitor a vista to the far south­ern brick wall of the liv­ing room, and into the south-facing court­yard. The roof appears to hover over oper­a­ble clerestory ven­ti­la­tion panels.

Across the entry-paving bricks in the living/dining/piano room awaits a pow­er­ful ceil­ing of heavy re-sawn Dou­glas fir columns/beams expressed between pan­els of clear-aged red­wood boards. The care­fully coursed south wall brick is soft­ened at its base by a com­fort­able plat­form couch lined with col­or­ful pil­lows. A ver­ti­cal slot of day­light at the joint between wall and fire­place dra­mat­i­cally light­ens the mas­sive stacked bond brick fire­place hood. (This grand ele­ment inspired by the fire­places of Frank Lloyd Wright and his acolytes of the Prairie School tra­di­tion would pre-date the iconic fire­place of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Uson­ian Lloyd Lewis res­i­dence in Lib­er­tyville, Illi­nois dated from 1940.)

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