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.)Pages: 1 2